BEIRUT, Lebanon — Voters in Lebanon deprived the Hezbollah militant group and its political allies of a parliamentary majority while electing about a dozen new, independent candidates, according to official results released on Tuesday.
The election, on Sunday, was the first opportunity for voters to formally respond to their leaders’ performance since the onset of a grave financial crisis that hollowed out the national currency and sent the economy spiraling.
It is also the first vote since a huge explosion in the port of Beirut in August 2020, widely attributed to mismanagement and corruption, that killed more than 200 people and damaged a large area of the capital city.
Competing for seats in the 128-member Parliament were established political parties and longtime operatives whom many Lebanese accuse of ruining the country and a range of new figures who promised change.
The results removed a few bricks from the old order, but fell far short of starting a sweeping overhaul of who exercises power in the small Mediterranean country and how.
Soon, the body will face the daunting task of appointing a new prime minister and cabinet to work toward an aid agreement with the International Monetary Fund and try to steer the country out of an economic crisis that the World Bank described as one of the world’s worst in the last century and a half.
The full parliamentary map will only become clear after coalitions are formed and legislating begins, and the process of government formation often takes months. Still the most significant change appeared to be the loss of the parliamentary majority enjoyed by Hezbollah and its allies since the last election in 2018.
A voter in the capital, Beirut, on Sunday. Turnout was lower than in the previous elections, according to a preliminary government count.Credit…Anwar Amro/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed militant group and political party that the United States considers a terrorist organization, has won loyal support from its base in Lebanon as an anti-Israel military force whose fighters have intervened in conflicts in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
Hezbollah, in addition to its gunmen who can project power on Lebanon’s streets, has government ministers and members of Parliament who wield political power by forming coalitions with other parties. In the election, although Hezbollah kept the 13 seats held by its members, some of its allied political parties lost seats, driving the coalition below the 65-seat threshold it must meet to ensure a majority.
The fact that no party or bloc won a solid majority set the stage for partisan gridlock that could prevent the Parliament from passing legislation necessary to ease the country’s woes. The I.M.F. and international donors have called for significant changes before aid will be given, none of which have been carried out.
New in this election was a range of independent candidates, many of whom emerged from a protest movement that began in the fall of 2019 calling for the ouster of the political class.
The new Parliament contains eight women, a record. About a dozen independent candidates won seats, also a record.
“The spirit of change inside the Lebanese Parliament has started,” said Layal Bou Moussa, who ran unsuccessfully as an independent, speaking of the new newcomers. “If they manage to unite into a single bloc, they can do something against the parties’ blocs.”
Sami Atallah, the founding director of The Policy Initiative, a think tank focused on Lebanon, said they could add a new dynamic.
“We have a mosaic-like Parliament, and the presence of the new faces is interesting because they can press for new ideas and stop harmful ones,” he said.
Supporters of Lebanon’s Free Patriotic Movement carried flags and placards on Tuesday outside the party’s office in Sin el Fil, a suburb of Beirut.Credit…Mohamed Azakir/Reuters
But the newcomers hold such disparate ideas about how to fix the country that it remains unclear whether they will work together, he said.
The newcomers will have to contend with established politicians who have strong ties to the banking system, which the government has acknowledged has lost $72 billion.
And the loss of the parliamentary majority by Hezbollah and its allies will not affect the status of the group’s weapons, Mr. Atallah said.
Hezbollah’s arms are beyond the control of the state, meaning that no Parliament can take them away or affect how they are used.
“We are controlled by two camps that are not really hidden, but they are running the show,” he said.
The Free Patriotic Movement of President Michel Aoun, a Maronite Christian bloc and an ally of Hezbollah, was among those that lost seats. The new Parliament will be tasked with replacing Mr. Aoun, 88, as president when his term ends in October.
The party’s leader, Gebran Bassil, blamed the losses on outside forces. The party, he wrote on Twitter, was not at war with other parties, he said, but “with America, Israel and its allies.”
The United States has accused Mr. Bassil of corruption and imposed sanctions on him last year. He has denied the accusation.
Supporters of the Lebanese Forces party celebrated in the Lebanon’s northern coastal city of Batroun as they awaited results after the end of voting in the parliamentary elections on Sunday.Credit…Ibrahim Chalhoub/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Another longtime Hezbollah ally who lost his seat, the Druze politician Wiam Wahhab, wrote to his supporters, “I’m sorry for the betrayal that we have been subjected to by those who believed lies and chose humiliation over freedom.”
To the electorate, he wrote, “Let us know in a year about the achievements of your deputies.”
The Lebanese Forces, another Christian party, headed by Samir Geagea, a former warlord from Lebanon’s 15-year civil war that ended in 1990, gained seats. With support from Saudi Arabia, Mr. Geagea is a staunch opponent of Hezbollah. His party won the largest bloc, with 21 seats.
Many old-guard politicians kept their seats, including two whom the judge investigating the cause of the Beirut port explosion had charged in connection with the blast. The two men, Ali Hassan Khalil and Ghazi Zeaiter, worked to hobble the investigation and were both re-elected.
Turnout was lower than in the previous elections, with only about 41 percent of eligible voters in-country participating, according to a preliminary government count. Analysts attributed the low turnout to cynicism, emigration and the inability of some voters to afford the fuel needed to return to their ancestral villages, where they are required to vote.
The vote itself was marred by irregularities, with Lebanese monitoring groups and social media users sharing videos of party supporters harassing their opponents, following voters inside polling stations and influencing their choices with cash and other gifts.
An observation mission sent by the European Union described the campaign in an initial report released on Tuesday as “vibrant but marred by various instances of intimidation, including on social media, and instances of campaign obstruction.”
The election was skewed, the report said, by “a high monetization of the campaign, where a culture of in-kind and financial handouts for electoral purposes by institutions owned or managed by candidates or parties prevailed.”
A poster depicting Lebanon’s Christian Lebanese Forces party’s leader, Samir Geagea, in the city of Zahle this month.Credit…Aziz Taher/Reuters
Hwaida Saad and Asmaa al-Omar contributed reporting.