Post-elections 2022: Power has shifted in Lebanon's sectarian power-sharing system Image Credit: Gulf News

The Lebanese parliamentary elections wrapped up on May 15, 2022, dealt a heavy blow to President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement (FPM). In the outgoing chamber, the party had an impressive bloc of 29 MPs, which topped with those of their allies, accounted for 71 out of 128-seats in Parliament.

The FPM’s share has now been slashed to 18, although the party leader Gibran Bassil says that topped with their immediate allies in the Armenian Tashnag Party, they currently stand at 21. That is without counting the 27-seat bloc of their Shiite allies, Hezbollah and Amal.

Bassil did not omit Hezbollah and Amal by accident. He has realised that although politically allied on several issues since 2006, they no longer constitute one unified bloc in Parliament.

Both Hezbollah and Amal refuse to endorse him for the upcoming presidential elections, scheduled for October 2022, where Bassil seems adamant at replacing his father-in-law, Michel Aoun. Instead, they are backing Maronite leader Suleiman Frangieh, head of the Marada Movement, who emerged with 2 MPs this May.

With a parliamentary bloc down by anywhere between 8-11 MPs, Bassil and the FPM realise that the chances of making to the presidency have become slim, or completely impossible, should Hezbollah and Amal decide to vote against him in October.

Electing a new president requires a 65-vote majority in Parliament. Even with the support of Hezbollah, the Free Patriotic Movement currently has no more than 48 MPs — still eighteen seats short of a majority.

Although part of the Hezbollah-led March 8 Alliance, the Marada Movement will undoubtedly refuse to endorse Bassil for president, even if Frangieh withdraws from the race.

Rise of the Lebanese Forces

On the other side of the Christian street, the Lebanese Forces (LF) of Samir Gagegea scored a major victory, raising their bloc from 15 to 19 MPs. Neither the LF, however, nor the FPM have a majority that enables them to single-handedly dictate policy in Parliament. Both would need to ally themselves with other blocs in order to get the majority needed for any major decision-making.

Gagegea is certain that his long-time Druze ally Walid Jumblatt will support him, who controls all nine Druze seats in Parliament. So would ex-security chief Ashraf Rifi, who also banked on an anti-Hezbollah ticket, winning 2 seats in the northern city of Tripoli. There are a handful of newcomers who were voted into parliament, however, representing civil society and the Oct. 17 Revolution.

Although anti-establishment and technically allied to none of the major political parties, they are politically closer to Samir Gagegea than any of the other big names in Parliament. They won 13 seats, or 10% of Parliament. Their bloc, along with that of Jumblatt, Rifi, and Gagegea, accounts for 43 MPs.

This is where smaller parties can make a difference, tipping the majority either in favour of Gagegea or Bassil. The Lebanese Phalange, a Maronite Christian party ruled by a third generation of the Gemayel family, won 4 seats in Parliament.

They will unlikely either vote independently or rally behind Gagegea to bring down Gibran Bassil. Whereas the Nasserist bloc — a total of 3 MPs — would go for Hezbollah, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they would go for Bassil as well.

A major Sunni setback

And finally, we have former members of Saad Al Hariri’s Future Movement — mostly Sunnis — who were divided into three camps, one lead by former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, one by Hariri’s brother, Bahaa, and a third, among independents. They currently stand at seven MPs, down from 20 in the outgoing Parliament.

Hariri had famously called on Sunnis to boycott the elections, withdrawing from politics due to a handful of issues, among which is what he described as “Hezbollah tutelage.”

Hariri’s boycott was unsuccessful in Beirut, where voting was rather impressive, but it did pay off in the northern city of Tripoli, where voter-turn out stood at 21%.

What the Hariri boycott did achieve was a weak and divided Sunni bloc in Parliament. Gone is the one bloc that has one leader, and spoke in one vote. This will make Sunni parliamentary influence at its lowest in the history of Lebanon.

Iraqisation of Lebanon’s Parliament?

Some are comparing the results of Lebanon’s elections with those of Iraq last October, when the Iran-backed Coordination Framework lost its majority in Parliament.

This is not entirely accurate, however. Although ranking Iranian allies like Hadi Al Amiri and Haidar Abadi did suffer a major setback, others who are no less pro-Iranian, like former Prime Minister Nouri Malki, won 36 seats.

And Muqtada al-Sadr, who won 73 of seats in Iraq, is no less pro-Iranian than any of these figures, although western media often likes to portray him as a Shiite independent. What happened in Iraq was a reorganisation of Iran’s allies in Parliament, due to personal disagreements and rivalries between the Shiite camp. That is not what happened in Lebanon this month.

The Shiite camp remains united as one bloc, and all of its candidates won all their seats, with no serious competition. The loss in Lebanon was shouldered by Hezbollah’s allies, not by Hezbollah itself, starting with the FPM. Former MPs like Wiam Wahhab, Emir Talal Arslan, Faisal Karami, Elie Ferezli lost. None of the losers were Shiites, only Sunnis, Christians, and Druze.

From here, Lebanon’s new Parliament will have three short-term tasks. One is electing a new speaker of parliament, a post that incumbent Nabih Berri hopes to hold onto. That vote might create major fissures within parliament, since Walid Jumblatt and Hezbollah support him but Samir Gagegea doesn’t, and nor does Gibran Bassil.

Second will be to find a new prime minister, since Najib Mikati’s government is now technically a caretaker one, based on Article 69 of the Lebanese Constitution, which requires a premier to resign when a new parliament is inaugurated.

Depending on political bargaining between the major parties, finding a replacement can take weeks, or months. And third will be electing a new president for Lebanon in October.

Sami Moubayed is a Syrian historian and former Carnegie scholar. He is also author of Under the Black Flag: At the frontier of the New Jihad.