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Hezbollah and its allies have lost their majority in Lebanon's parliament, final results show, in an election the EU described as being overshadowed by "vote-buying and clientelism".
The Iran-backed political party and militant group Hezbollah and its allies won 59 seats in Lebanon's 128-member parliament — down from their majority of 71 in 2018's elections. The results indicate no single bloc will have control of the parliament, with experts warning of a likely deadlock in parliament as a result.
The Lebanese Forces, a strong critic of Iran's influence in Lebanon, now appear to be the largest Christian party in parliament, overtaking the Hezbollah-aligned Free Patriotic Movement, which was founded by President Michel Aoun.
Opposition candidates won at least 13 seats in the elections, with 12 of them entering parliament for the first time. Many of those candidates were closely linked to the protests in 2019. The election is the first to be held since the 2019 economic collapse and nationwide protests against Lebanon's ruling classes, and the 2020 Beirut port explosion that killed more than 200 people.
Hezbollah and its main Shiite ally, the Amal Movement of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, retained the 27 seats allocated to the Shiite sect.
In the early Tuesday evening, celebratory gunfire could be heard from Khandaq Al Ghamiq, an Amal-dominated area of Beirut, as Mr Berri gave a speech.
But other allies lost out, including deputy parliament speaker Elie Ferzli, long-time Druze politician Talal Arslan and Sunni politician Faisal Karami.
“We have to keep in mind that even though Hezbollah and its allies lost the arithmetic parliamentary majority, this does not mean that the opposite camp will be able to rule Lebanon without taking into account Hezbollah’s concerns," Karim Bitar, professor at Saint Joseph University in Beirut, told The National.
The final results included a record of eight women MPs.
Nonetheless, Professor Bitar said the results marked "a relative and symbolic defeat for Hezbollah," pointing to opposition victories in the southern Hezbollah heartlands.
Elias Jradeh and Firas Hamdan won seats that Hezbollah and its allies had not lost in three decades.
“With the lack of a majority block in parliament, Hezbollah will not necessarily accept being marginalized. It could lead to a deadlock in parliament," said Professor Bitar.
"It makes it necessary to find consensual figures who could be potential Prime Minister's or potential President’s. Both sides of the political spectrum will have to make compromises. None of them can rule Lebanon on its own."
The Lebanese pound has lost more than 90 per cent of its value since the economic collapse. It hit 30,000 pounds to the US dollar on Tuesday, around a 10 per cent loss since Sunday's election.
“I do not really expect things to get any better. In fact, things will get worse," Hilal Khashan, a professor of political science at the American University of Beirut, told The National. He said the weakening of the Lebanese pound as the election results became clearer, “is an indicator of the direction of the situation in Lebanon”.
“I do not expect the new parliament to be able to co-operate, I don’t believe we are going to have a prime minister in the immediate future, not even in the next few months," he said.
With the parliamentary majority of Hezbollah and its allies gone, Professor Khashan warned “it doesn’t mean the anti-Hezbollah forces are of one persuasion. They may not be able to come together and form a coalition."
Overall, he envisaged that “it will be extremely difficult to agree on anything".
Election turnout was just 41 per cent — eight percentage points lower than in 2018 — potentially reflecting the Future Movement's decision not to run and call supporters to boycott. The increase in independents suggested that the traditional sectarian parties that have shared power for decades failed to mobilise their supporters.
Jarek Domanski, the deputy chief observer for the EU's observation mission, said that "vote-buying and clientelism, in general, these clientelistic practices which are systemic and long term in this country, in our opinion, did affect, did distort the electoral process and did affect the free voters' choice".
Much of Lebanon has been plunged into poverty amid an economic meltdown, with the country experiencing extreme shortages of electricity and essentials such as medicine.
Despite the low turnout, the UN envoy to Lebanon said, "the elections were a vital expression of Lebanon's citizen engagement, which should serve to strengthen the country's institutions."