By BASSEM MROUE
Updated: May 17, 2022 12:00 PM
Created: May 17, 2022 05:13 AM
BEIRUT (AP) - Lebanon's militant Hezbollah group and its allies lost their parliamentary majority, final elections results showed Tuesday, while more than a dozen independent newcomers gained seats. The outcome signaled a shift in a country devastated by an ongoing financial meltdown and soaring poverty.
Formal results for Sunday's elections showed no clear majority for any group. That indicates a fragmented and polarized parliament divided between pro- and anti-Hezbollah lawmakers who will likely find it difficult to work together to form a new government and enact desperately needed reforms.
The Hezbollah-led coalition won 61 seats in the 128-member legislature, a drop of 10 members since the last vote was held four years ago. It's a loss largely due to setbacks suffered by the Iran-backed group's political partners and was not expected to weaken its own domination of Lebanese politics. All 13 Hezbollah candidates who ran got elected.
Still, the results were hailed as a major breakthrough for groups opposed to Hezbollah and the country's other powerful political parties blamed for the collapse, introducing more new independent faces than was expected.
Hezbollah's most vocal opponent, the nationalist Christian Lebanese Forces party, emerged as the biggest winner. Its Christian rival, the Free Patriotic Movement founded by President Michel Aoun, suffered a political setback. The Free Patriotic Movement is an ally of Hezbollah.
The Lebanese Forces now has the largest bloc in parliament with 21 seats, overtaking the Free Patriotic Movement, which now holds 18 seats, a drop of three seats from the previous vote.
Despite the setback, Hezbollah and its main Shiite ally, the Amal group of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, retained the 27 seats allocated to the Shiite sect.
Independents and newcomers, including those from the 2019 protest movement, scooped up 14 seats. That was a major achievement considering they went into the vote fragmented and facing intimidation and threats by entrenched mainstream parties.
Their showing sends a strong message to ruling class politicians who have for decades held on to their seats despite an economic meltdown that has impoverished the country and triggered the biggest wave of emigration since the 1975-90 civil war.
But with two main blocs - Hezbollah and the Lebanese Forces - opposed to each other, analysts said the new political scene will likely see more paralysis and growing friction at a time when unity is needed.
"The next phase is a difficult phase," said political analyst Youssef Diab. He cited challenges ahead including the formation of a new government, finalizing a deal with the International Monetary Fund, forging an economic recovery plan and agreeing on a new president in the fall.
"All of these are tense topics and Hezbollah will challenge every bit," Diab said.
U.N. Secretary-General spokesperson Stephane Dujarric called for the "swift formation of an inclusive government" that can finalize an agreement with the IMF and accelerate reforms necessary to set Lebanon on the path to recovery.
The biggest loss came to Hezbollah's allies with close links to Syrian President Bashar Assad's government. Those include deputy parliament speaker Elie Ferzli, Druze politician Talal Arslan who had held a seat for three decades, Asaad Hardan and Faisal Karami, son of late Premier Omar Karami.
Sunday's parliamentary elections were the first since Lebanon's economic meltdown began in late 2019. The government's factions have done virtually nothing to address the collapse, leaving Lebanese to fend for themselves as they plunge into poverty without electricity, medicine, garbage collection or any other semblance of normal life.
The vote is also the first since a deadly explosion at Beirut's port in August 2020 that killed more than 200, wounded thousands and damaged parts of the capital.
"The results show that the Lebanese mood is against this ruling class and is also against the political alignment with Iran," said Lebanese Forces official Wissam Raji. "The Lebanese know that the situation has become disastrous and the solution is not in the hands of the ruling class."
(Copyright 2022 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)