Elections in Lebanon – More influence expected for Hezbollah and Iran

There are currently hardly any winners in Lebanon, which is marked by a severe economic crisis and poverty. But the Shiite Hezbollah could practically fall into their laps in Sunday’s parliamentary elections. The reason is the resignation of the leading Sunni politician Saad al-Hariri, who announced his departure in January with great bitterness and linked it with a call for an election boycott.

The ex-prime minister and son of the longtime head of government Rafiq al-Hariri, who was murdered in 2005, cited the deep divisions in Lebanon, the state collapse and, above all, Iran’s strong influence as reasons. But Iran’s protégé, Hezbollah, could now further cement its power in Lebanon.

Questions of faith tear up politics

Observers believe the movement is capable of up to two-thirds of the seats — a majority that would give the politicians from the orbit of the heavily armed militia, which the EU and the USA classify as a terrorist organization, a practically free hand in the multi-ethnic Mediterranean state. A veto by other population groups against political decisions would then hardly be possible, even in a government system organized strictly according to proportional representation. Of the approximately seven million Lebanese, an estimated 30 percent each are Shiite and Sunni Muslims, and around 40 percent are Christians.

After the withdrawal of the political heavyweight Hariri, many Sunnis are likely to stay away from the election. “We have many reservations about politicians,” says Rami Harrouk, who lives in a Hariri stronghold north of Tripoli. Huge posters advertise the candidates in Lebanon’s second-largest city, but the 39-year-old factory worker, under the impact of the economic collapse, cannot warm to any of the politicians. “These last two years have been full of unhappiness for us. Of course I won’t vote.”

Leading Sunni politicians and clergy are now trying to get their supporters and community members to vote. Bahaa Hariri, Saad Hariri’s older brother, founded the “Together for Lebanon” movement and uses radio commercials to call for votes. Bahaa is politically at odds with his brother, a symbol of the split within the Sunni camp.

Hezbollah itself officially states that it does not expect a two-thirds majority of at least 86 seats and is not even aiming for one. In the previous election in 2018, she and her allies won 71 of the 128 seats. According to the Shiite movement, it expects a similar distribution – probably also because its most important ally from the Christian camp is likely to lose seats according to general expectations.

Difficult reform projects

But any gain – even if it falls short of a two-thirds majority – could give Hezbollah, which is closely allied with the Tehran leadership, greater influence in the presidential elections due later this year. The Shiites also have more say in reforms called for by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Lebanon’s neighbor Israel feels threatened by Hezbollah, and there have been repeated fights between the two sides in the past. More power for the Shia militia could isolate Lebanon internationally at a time when three quarters of the population has slipped below the poverty line.

In the country, which has long been marked by conflicts between the various religious groups, the divided political elite has not been able to get the financial crisis under control for years. The World Bank speaks of one of the greatest economic collapses that the world has ever seen. The financial collapse is considered the greatest threat to stability since the civil war from 1975 to 1990. Hezbollah, founded by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in 1982, is in better financial shape than many other groups in Lebanon. (apa)

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