Beirut : Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah claimed victory yesterday after elections it said legitimised its military branch, leaving Prime Minister Saad Hariri as the main loser.
The two main protagonists of the country’s first legislative polls in almost a decade did not wait for official results to comment on the implications of a vote which was also marked by low turnout.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah called the vote “a great political and moral victory for the resistance option that protects the sovereignty of the country.”
The Iran-backed Shiite movement and its allies look set to secure a parliament bloc large enough to thwart attempts for it to disarm, a longstanding demand of its political enemies.
“The make-up of the new legislative chamber represents a guarantee and a great strength to protect this strategic choice and to protect the golden equation -- the army, the people and the resistance,” Nasrallah said.
The man who has led calls internally for Hezbollah to lay down its arms is Hariri, whose Sunni-dominated Future Movement lost a third of its seats.
Hariri told reporters his party had won 21 seats, a drop from the 33 it controlled in the outgoing legislature.
“We were betting on a better result,” the premier said.
The number of Hezbollah lawmakers in the 128-seat parliament may not increase from the current 13 but astute pre-electoral tactics have secured it enough allies to withstand challenges on strategic issues.
“Hariri’s loss will be the distinguishing mark of these elections, which will have consequences on the battle to form a new government,” the pro-Hezbollah Al-Akhbar daily wrote earlier yesterday.
Hezbollah, which was created in the 1980s to fight against Israel and currently battles in Syria alongside regime forces, is listed as a terror organisation by the United States.
The group, whose arsenal outguns the army’s does not derive its dominant status on the Lebanese scene from the ballot box but the new breakdown of parliament will increase its political legitimacy.
Lebanon’s unique brand of sectarian-driven, power-sharing politics mean rival factions often end up in the same government, as is the case now where Hezbollah is represented in Hariri’s cabinet.
The constitution stipulates that parliament is equally split between Muslims and Christians, whose biggest party, led by President Michel Aoun has been a Hezbollah ally.
“The biggest swing vote will be President Aoun’s group, which will move among the other blocs. Hezbollah will benefit from the lack of a broad coalition against it,” political analyst Imad Salamey said.
Lawmakers had extended their own mandate three times since 2009, ostensibly over security concerns linked to the war in neighbouring Syria and political divisions that led to long and crippling institutional crises.