Hezbollah lost a majority of parliamentary seats in last week’s elections – but will it make a difference?
While it is too soon to tell, one clear winner was Saudi Arabia, as the Iranian influence suffers a loss in Lebanon
After Lebanon’s parliamentary elections last week, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah –the leader of Hezbollah, the Iranian terrorist proxy organization – acknowledged that his party and its allies had lost their parliamentary majority.
“Unlike the situation in parliament in 2018, no political group can claim a majority,” Nasrallah said in a televised speech.
Hezbollah and its allies won 62 of the 128 seats in parliament, three fewer than needed to secure a majority. While Hezbollah and the Amal group, led by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, retained all of parliament’s Shiite seats, Hezbollah’s Christian allies lost seats in the election alongside other Sunni and Druze Hezbollah allies. The Free Patriotic Movement, was founded by Lebanese President Michel Aoun and was previously the largest Christian party in parliament.
The staunchly anti-Hezbollah Christian Lebanese Forces party, backed by Saudi Arabia and led by Samir Geagea, gained additional seats. All seats in the Lebanese parliament are reserved on a sectarian basis under Lebanon’s power-sharing system which is designed to protect the interests of powerful sectarian leaders, such as those of Hezbollah and others.
But will the setback of Hezbollah make any difference in the politics of Lebanon and in the lives of ordinary citizens, who are suffering under the worst financial crisis in Lebanon’s history?
“It is unclear how Hezbollah will respond to these losses, or how the country’s new parliament will chart its course forward amid a financial tailspin,” wrote CNN’s Tamara Qiblawi. “Those in parliament who oppose Hezbollah are an inchoate cluster of parties and independent candidates, with the Saudi-allied right-wing Christian Lebanese Forces (LF) representing the largest parliamentary bloc among them.”
“The LF is a civil war-era militia-turned-political party, a far cry from the change that the masses called for when nationwide demonstrations engulfed the country in October 2019. The country is at a crossroads. It could experience more of the instability that (sic) of the last nearly two-decades: a series of deadlocks that exact huge losses on the Lebanese economy. On the other hand, the new parliament also raises the specter of what had previously been unimaginable – a political retreat by Hezbollah.”
No matter the outcome for ordinary Lebanese people, the election might prove to be good news for Saudi Arabia – which has watched as its arch-rival, Iran – has been extending its influence in the region. Analysts do not expect, however, that Riyadh will make any immediate moves to gain influence in the country.
“Amid signs of renewed Saudi interest in Lebanon, analysts believe Riyadh will maneuver cautiously rather than dive fully back into a country where Shiite Islamist Hezbollah, founded by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, remains Lebanon’s most powerful faction, with weapons that outgun the national army,” Reuters wrote Wednesday.
“Saudi Arabia will be cautious and will not jump on the wagon so quickly. They have been burned before,” said Abdulaziz Sager, chairman of the Riyadh-based Gulf Research Center.
Mohanad Hage Ali of the Carnegie Middle East Center said a quarter or more of the new parliament is strongly anti-Hezbollah and allied to Riyadh.
“The large minority within a hung parliament will definitely be impactful,” he said. “It gives Saudi Arabia options. Their allies are in a stronger position than they were in 2018.”
Iran, for its part, has officially said that it “respects the result of Lebanon’s election.”
At the same time, however, Iran has made it clear that it does not believe that Hezbollah will lose its power in Lebanon because of the election.
“It is too immature to say that because of this vote, a strong and influential group like Hezbollah will be weakened in Lebanon or Iran’s position will be weakened in the Middle East,” an Iranian official told Reuters.