2018 Elections: Hezbollah and allies gain upper hand as Hariri slips up

Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Future Movement saw his bloc almost split in half after capturing 21 seats, in contrast to the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and their allies who bolstered their position after electing 29 representatives.
by Georgi Azar

7 May 2018 | 21:08

Source: by Annahar

  • by Georgi Azar
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 7 May 2018 | 21:08

Election officials count ballots shortly after the polling stations closed in Beirut, Lebanon, Sunday, May 6, 2018. Lebanon’s first national elections in nine years were marked by seemingly low turnout Sunday, reflecting voters’ apathy and frustration at politicians’ endemic corruption and mismanagement of the country’s failing economy. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

BEIRUT: The Shiite coalition of Hezbollah-Amal reaped the benefits of the newly implemented electoral law by augmenting their parliamentary bloc to 29 MPs, while President Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), an ally of the Iranian-backed militant group, secured 29 seats along with its affiliates.

The success of at least 8 pro-Hezbollah candidates across a number of districts guarantees the Shiite party and its allies an absolute majority in Parliament for the first time since 2009.

The Lebanese Forces (LF) Christian party, a key opponent of Hezbollah, pulled off a surprisingly big win after securing 15 seats while Saudi-backed Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Future Movement parliamentary bloc lost over a third of its members, capturing only 20 seats.

The Kataeb party, once a pillar within the realm of politics, secured a mere three seats, the Socialist Progressive Party led by Walid Jumblatt captured nine, while former Prime Minister Najib Mikati secured another four. 

Despite the electoral law breathing life into the opposition and civil society movements, independents managed to secure one sole seat given the fierce sectarian and political landscape after Paula Yacoubian won the Armenian seat in Beirut's first district. 

As Lebanese awoke on Monday, claims of widespread corruption began surfacing across different media outlets, further evidenced in the National Democratic Institute’s (NDI) report. 

‘Koulouna Watani’ candidate Joumana Haddad, who remained in pole position until 7 am, was suddenly declared the loser against the FPM backed Antoine Pano. 

Fellow independent candidate Ziad Abs laid the blame at the feet of “the corrupt ruling elite,” telling reporters that they will submit an appeal with the Constitutional Council challenging the decision. 

During a protest held at the doorstep of the Interior Ministry in Beirut, Haddad rallied the crowd while vowing to persevere in her quest for justice.  

“This case is not mine only, it concerns every Lebanese who was hoping for a clear and transparent election.”

According to Koulouna Watani, their representatives at Forum de Beirut, where a chunk of the votes was being tallied for Beirut’s first district, were forced out of the room for "20 minutes after an IT malfunction during which the votes were manipulated in Pano’s favor.”

Local media also reported that eight ballot boxes containing the votes of Lebanese abroad were missing. When prompted by Koulouna Watani on the whereabouts of the boxes, the Interior Ministry “assured” the public that “the boxes are not lost, but their arrival got merely delayed,” before claiming that they “are in possession of all the boxes.”

Lebanon’s Constitutional Council, tasked with arbitrating conflicts that arise from parliamentary and presidential elections, is now expected to submit its ruling within the next few weeks.

Meanwhile, Baalbek, a Hezbollah stronghold, witnessed blatant corruption according to media reports, after pictures showing what appeared to be a large batch of votes pertaining to opposition candidate Yehia Chamas laying on the floor at the local Serail. 

In Saida, a video circulating on social media appeared to show government workers accompanied by a Lebanese army soldier opening a ballot box and removing the envelops it contained. 

The NDI, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization working to support and strengthen democratic institutions worldwide, expressed concern over an election “riddled with breaches, violations, and bribes.” 

The election observer delegation included 31 political and civic leaders, elections experts and regional specialists from 13 countries across the Middle East, Africa, Europe and North America, including Peter MacKay, former Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Birgitta Ohlsson, former Minister of European Affairs, Democracy and Consumer Rights. 

The report highlighted the violations within polling stations, as “booths were sometimes positioned in a way that did not guarantee voter privacy, while in other instances voters revealed their choices voluntarily or had party agents, election or security officials checking their ballots.”

It also signalled out polling staff’s discrepancies, underlining that “some polling officials failed to ensure the safety of election materials during the count," as well as maintaining that "vote buying was widely reported."

Touching on campaign expenditures, the NDI drew attention to the media's role in hampering the implementation of a level playing field after "TV stations dramatically increased the price of media appearances, giving an advantage to wealthy individuals, established parties, and incumbents." 

Lebanon’s Association For Democratic Elections (LADE) also recorded over 3000 violations from the moment the polls opened until the votes began to be tallied, with a spokesman telling local TV station LBC that their “observers were not present for almost three hours while ballots were being tallied.”

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