Low turnout worries politicians as Lebanon voting ends

Election officials count ballots shortly after the polling stations closed in Beirut Lebanon.—AP

Hezbollah emerged strengthened from the Lebanese parliamentary elections on Monday, with preliminary results showing the party and its allies won just over half the seats.

Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah told supporters via videolink on Monday that the election vindicated his party's actions, in a clear reference to its involvement in the war in Syria and weapons stockpile which it says is a deterrent against Israeli invasion.

The powerful Shia group is a key political player in Lebanon where it has allied with the Christian party of President Michel Aoun and has participated in Hariri's government since December 2016. Hezbollah has sent thousands of fighters to Syria to shore up Assad's forces, and its alleged military involvement in Iraq and Yemen has led many Sunni Gulf countries to brand it a terrorist group.

Hezbollah is proscribed as a terrorist group by the United States and its hold on Lebanese affairs has been problematic for a succession of U.S. and European leaders.

Lebanese prime minister and candidate for the parliamentary election Saad Hariri shows his ink-stained finger after casting his vote during the parliamentary election in Beirut, Lebanon, May 6, 2018.

The staunchly anti-Hezbollah Lebanese Forces, a Christian party, appears to have emerged as a big victor, almost doubling its MPs to 15 from eight, according to the initial indications.

Such a result would cement Hezbollah's role in the Lebanese government as the strongest political power in the country.

An anti-Hezbollah alliance led by Hariri and backed by Saudi Arabia won a majority in parliament in 2009.

Hezbollah and its political affiliates secured 67 seats in the Lebanese parliament, bringing them to a simple majority, according to unofficial results from both politicians like Hariri and Lebanese news outlets.

Low turnout worries politicians as Lebanon voting ends
Low turnout worries politicians as Lebanon voting ends

"Clearly, the Future Movement no longer monopolizes the Sunni votes", said political analyst Ibrahim Bayram.

If official results expected in the afternoon confirm Hezbollah's own estimates, the movement which Iran is essentially using for external operations will be better positioned to fend off any suggestion it should disarm.

Lebanon's first parliamentary vote in nine years was held on Sunday, with over 500 candidates vying for seats.

The anti-Hezbollah Christian party Lebanese Forces also appears to have done well in the election, with indications that they have nearly doubled their MPs from eight to 15.

In Tripoli, where several prominent Sunni politicians were vying to claim leadership of the city, Faisal Karame was elected to parliament for the first time.

Lebanon has often been a scene where the rivalry between the region's two heavyweight has played out but their political clients in this election seemed content to maintain the status quo.

The preliminary results show at least one candidate from a civil society list - journalist Paula Yaacoubian - won a seat in the capital Beirut, an area traditionally monopolized by established political parties.

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.

The Lebanon vote is to be followed on May 12 by an Iraqi election that is also set to underline Iran's reach, with one of three pro-Tehran Shi'ite leaders set to become prime minister. But many, including Machnouk, blamed the new, complex law which redrew constituency districts for the tepid turnout particularly in Beirut.

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