Hezbollah allies eye gains after Lebanon vote

Beirut: The Iran-backed Shia group Hezbollah and its political allies looked set to win more than half the seats in Lebanon’s first parliamentary election in nine years, according to preliminary results cited by politicians and Lebanese media.
The polls were also marked by a low turnout of 49.2 percent and the emergence of a civil society movement challenging Lebanon’s oligarchs that could clinch a pair of seats in parliament.
Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk announced the turnout figure at a news conference shortly after midnight and appeared to blame it on the new electoral law agreed last year.
“This is a new law and voters were not familiar with it, nor were the heads of polling stations,” he said. “Voting operations were very slow.”
As provisional estimates trickled in, some candidates’ supporters started celebrating in the streets after a polling operation marred only by a few violations but no major incident.
Lawmakers had extended their own mandate three times since 2009, ostensibly over security concerns linked to neighbouring Syria’s war and political divisions that led to long and crippling institutional crises.
A higher turnout had been expected after the long electoral hiatus but the vote was the first to follow a law passed in 2017 and the pre-printed ballots used on Sunday appeared to confuse some voters.
Possible kingmaker
Some voters also said that the sometimes absurd web of local electioneering alliances that saw some parties work together in one district and compete in others had put them off.
With an hour to go before polling stations closed, several senior political leaders appealed for an eleventh-hour rush to the ballot boxes but stopped short of extending polling hours.
Experts differ on who would benefit the most from a low turnout as alliance scenarios varied across the country’s 15 districts, whose size and sectarian fabric are all different.
Hezbollah’s own estimates a few hours after counting started sees the Shia movement coming out on top everywhere it fielded candidates, although only official results expected early on Monday will confirm the vote’s outcome.
With an increased number of seats in parliament, Hezbollah is expected with its allies to build a majority in its favour more easily on key issues such as the sensitive matter of the weapons it never laid down after the 1975-1990 civil war.
Lebanon’s Hezbollah deputy leader Sheikh Naim Qassem casts his vote as he stands next to Hezbollah parliament candidate Amin Sherri at a polling station during the parliamentary election, in Beirut, Lebanon, May 6, 2018.