On May 15, 2022, Lebanon held its first parliamentary elections since the 2019 national uprising. While political parties were frantically spending money on their campaigns, the anti-establishment groups were scrambling to form electoral alliances. Although the elections were held under difficult logistical circumstances, three key takeaways are in order: Firstly, while Hezbollah maintained its 13 seats, its allies– namely Amal, the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), and the Lebanese Democratic Party (LDP) – lost quite a few. Secondly, the Lebanese Forces (LF) managed to gain four additional seats which is enough to challenge the FPM, its Christian rival, regarding the community’s leadership. Finally, the opposition groups did surprisingly well, gaining 13 seats and pushing many incumbents out of power. While it was clear that the results of the elections reflected the Lebanese peoples’ dissatisfaction with the old guard, intra-elite rivalry also saved opposition groups from their potentially detrimental fragmentation, and aided in a substantial number of its candidates ultimately crossing the finish line.
The first two outcomes are more likely to lead towards political paralysis, and are rather inconsequential in relation to positive change on socio-economic issues. Although the third outcome appears promising on the surface, the likelihood of the opposition group members developing a common front is questionable, which alongside their varying policy positions, predicts a less hopeful future.
Let’s begin with Hezbollah’s camp. In addition to keeping its seats, the party ensured more votes for its candidates compared to the 2018 elections. This, however, was not the case for Hezbollah’s allies. For instance, the Amal movement, headed by the Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri, lost two seats. The Free Patriotic Movement, President Michel Aoun’s party, also lost three seats. Marada, headed by Sleiman Frangieh, a presidential hopeful, lost two seats. Arslan, the head of the Lebanese Democratic party, lost his seat in Aley. Other key political figures like Eli Ferzli, the deputy speaker of the parliament, Faysal Karami, the member of an established political family, and Asad Hardan from the Syrian Social National Party (SSNP), also lost their seats. Although Jamil Sayyed who is close to Bashar Assad and ran on Hezbollah’s list got elected, he did so with much fewer votes in comparison to 2018.
This outcome could be due to Hezbollah’s inability to overcome voters’ dissatisfaction in supporting its allies, or rather, a more likely cause, a decision it made to clip the wings of the pro-Syrian camp in the March 8 alliance with the aim to limit its maneuvers in domestic affairs, possibly in anticipation of regional development between Syria and the Gulf countries. While this may appear counterintuitive, the party does not particularly require a majority in parliament to maintain its hegemony, as the inescapable status of its weapons is infamously beyond the State’s institution. Ironically, these weapons have been used conveniently by both Hezbollah and its opponents to mobilize the electorate to their own ends.
When it comes to LF, the party managed to add four additional seats to its bloc, becoming the largest party in parliament, with a total of 18 seats out of 128. It also increased its popular vote by 18% in comparison to 2018, while also extending its geographical presence to Jezzine in the South, snatching seats from its rival, FPM. This success will surely impact the presidential elections, as LF can now predictably claim to be the legitimate representative of the Christian community. As for FPM, in addition to losing seats and votes, it appears to be facing intra-party conflicts amongst its members, predominantly between those siding with its head, Gebran Bassil, and others who oppose him.
The outcome of this rivalry will be inconsequential however, since LF, as well as FPM, remain very much a part of the current political establishment and the status quo. Although LF had campaigned vehemently against Hezbollah’s weapons, ultimately, its socio-economic program is not any different from its FPM rival and other ruling parties. To give a relevant example, the party had participated in the parliamentary fact-finding committee (which also included members from the FPM, Hezbollah, Amal, Future Movement, Progressive Socialist Party, Independence Movement, and Azm), that obstructed Diab’s economic recovery plan, which if implemented would have protected depositors. The consequence to this hindrance has been terrible for society at large, leading to unprecedented levels of poverty and emigration. Just like FPM, it also voted on extending the Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh’s mandate, the man responsible for transforming Lebanon’s economy into a wildly destructive Ponzi scheme.
Regardless, the biggest win was awarded to the anti-establishment groups. Although they’d participated in the elections to compete against the ruling parties, they also competed against one another in 11 districts, only managing to unite in four (South 2, South 3, North 3, and Mount Lebanon 2). Nevertheless, they won 13 seats in seven out of the 15 districts: two in Beirut 1, three in Beirut 2, three in Mount Lebanon 4, one in South 1, two in South 3, one in North 2, as well as one in North 3. They seized those seats from six parties: Marada, FPM, Future Movement, LDP, SSNP, and Amal.
This win is not merely confined to those who got the seats. The campaign led by Jad Ghosn in the Metn region against the ruling traditional parties and zaims arose as equally significant. Although Ghosn did not ultimately win a seat in parliament, falling short by 88 votes, his socio-economic platform resonated well with the electorate earning him 8,526 preferential votes, numerically beating FPM’s Ibrahim Kannan (with 5,513 votes), and was not far off from the 10,486 votes that Kateab party leader Samy Gemayel gained in his own regional stronghold.
Ultimately, intra-elite rivalry ended up serving as incredibly beneficial to the opposition. The head of the Future movement’s party, Saad Hariri, withdrew from the race early on prompting his traditional competitors from both outside and inside his own party to try to grab those votes, failing largely for the most part. Fouad Makhzoumi, hoping to take additional seats in the 11-seat district in Beirut 2, barely kept his past numbers, despite the money he spent on his campaign. Fouad Seniora, former Prime Minister and an internal rival to Hariri, also failed to get any seats for the list he backed. One possible analysis of this is that Hariri chose to direct votes to the opposition groups, in an effort to prevent his immediate rivals from gaining ground, at least until his eventual return to politics.
The opposition group in Chouf-Aley (Mount Lebanon 4) may have also benefited from the rivalry between Druze leader Walid Jumblatt and his traditional competitor Talal Arslan. While Jumblatt usually leaves room for Arslan, he chose to exclude him this time around in order to offer his son, Taymour, the chance to mature politically and assume the party’s mantle. In doing so, his position aligned with Hezbollah’s, for both are keen on banishing Talal Arslan and Wiam Wahhab (both pro-Syria), out of parliament.
In sum, our new parliament is made up of three clusters. The first includes the traditional political parties, a total of 100 seats distributed in the following way: 18 for LF, 17 for FPM, 14 for Amal, 13 for Hezbollah, eight for PSP and 30 for other smaller parties and individuals allied with them. The second cluster involves the traditional opposition groups, composed of 15 members: four belonging to the Kataeb party, eight for independent MPs, and the remaining three for smaller parties. The third is of course, the anti-establishment, with 13 seats.
The anti-establishment will soon be facing three sets of challenges: the first lies in electing a speaker and appointing a Prime Minister. The second, in setting an agenda that pushes for key bills that can confront the Lebanese economic and social crises. Finally, in generally overseeing the government and other agencies immediately, ensuring the commencement of the investigation into the Beirut Port blast.
This ability to effectively activate the mandated authority of parliament is contingent on the anti-establishment setting a clear vision for their four-year mandate as a coherent bloc; this is a critical looming responsibility, one that will unfold serious repercussions in the event of its failure.
[This article was originally published by The Policy Initiative on 21 May 2022.]