BEIRUT, Lebanon — Voters in Lebanon deprived the militant group Hezbollah and its political allies of a parliamentary majority while electing about a dozen new, independent candidates, according to official results released Tuesday.
The election, on Sunday, was the first opportunity for voters to formally respond to their leaders’ achievements since the onset of a severe financial crisis that eroded the national currency and sent the economy spinning.
It is also the first vote since a massive explosion in the port of Beirut in August 2020, widely blamed on mismanagement and corruption, that killed more than 200 people and damaged much of the capital.
Competing for seats in the 128-member parliament were established political parties and old cops who accuse many Lebanese of ruining the country and a slew of new figures who promised change.
The results removed a few stones from the old order, but fell far short of a major overhaul of who wields power in the small Mediterranean country and how.
Soon the body will face the daunting task of appointing a new prime minister and cabinet to work on an aid deal with the International Monetary Fund and try to steer the country out of an economic crisis that the World Bank described as one of the worst in the world. over the past century and a half.
The full parliamentary map will only become apparent after coalitions are formed and legislation begins, and the process of government formation often takes months. Yet the most significant change appeared to be the loss of the parliamentary majority by Hezbollah and its allies since the last elections in 2018.
Hezbollah, an Iran-backed militant group and political party that the United States considers a terrorist organization, has gained loyal support from its base in Lebanon as an anti-Israel force whose fighters have intervened in conflicts in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
Hezbollah, in addition to its gunmen who can project power onto the streets of Lebanon, has government ministers and parliamentarians who exercise political power by forming coalitions with other parties. In the election, although Hezbollah retained its members’ 13 seats, some of its allied political parties lost seats, pushing the coalition below the 65-seat threshold it must meet to secure a majority.
The fact that no party or bloc won a solid majority set the stage for a partisan stalemate that could stop parliament from passing legislation needed to alleviate the country’s woes. The IMF and international donors have called for sweeping changes before aid is delivered, but they have not been implemented.
New to this election was a string of independent candidates, many of whom emerged from a protest movement that began in late 2019 and called for the ousting of the political class.
The new parliament has only eight women, a record. About a dozen independent candidates won seats, another record.
“The spirit of change within the Lebanese parliament has begun,” said Layal Bou Moussa, who unsuccessfully competed as an independent, speaking of the new arrivals. “If they manage to unite into one bloc, they can do something against the parties’ blocs.”
Sami Atallah, the founder and director of The Policy Initiative, a think tank focused on Lebanon, said they could add a new dynamic.
“We have a mosaic-like parliament and the presence of the new faces is interesting because they can push for new ideas and stop harmful ones,” he said.
But the newcomers have such divergent ideas about how to recover the country that it remains unclear whether they will work together, he said.
The newcomers will have to deal with established politicians who have strong ties to the banking system, which the government has admitted has lost $72 billion.
And the loss of the parliamentary majority by Hezbollah and its allies will not affect the status of the group’s weapons, Atallah said.
Hezbollah’s weapons are beyond the control of the state, meaning no parliament can take them away or influence how they are used.
“We’re run by two camps that aren’t really hidden, but they run the show,” he said.
President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement, a Maronite Christian bloc and an ally of Hezbollah, was among those to lose seats. The new parliament will replace Mr Aoun, 88, as president when his term ends in October.
The leader of the party, Gebran Bassil, blames the losses on outside forces. The party, he wrote on Twitter, was not at war with other parties, he said, but “with America, Israel and its allies.”
The United States has accused Mr Bassil of corruption and imposed sanctions on him last year. He has denied the allegation.
Another longtime Hezbollah ally who lost his seat, Druze politician Wiam Wahhab, wrote to his supporters: “I am sorry for the betrayal to which we have been subjected by those who believed lies and chose humiliation over freedom.”
He wrote to the electorate: “Let us know the performance of your deputies in a year’s time.”
The Lebanese Armed Forces, another Christian party, led by Samir Geagea, a former warlord from Lebanon’s 15-year civil war that ended in 1990, won seats. With support from Saudi Arabia, Mr. Geagea is a staunch opponent of Hezbollah. His party won the largest bloc, with 21 seats.
Many old guard politicians retained their seats, including two charged in connection with the blast by the judge investigating the cause of the explosion in the Beirut port. The two men, Ali Hassan Khalil and Ghazi Zeaiter, tried to thwart the investigation and were both re-elected.
Turnout was lower than in the previous election, with only about 41 percent of eligible voters in the country taking part, according to a government preliminary tally. Analysts attributed the low turnout to cynicism, emigration and the inability of some voters to afford the fuel needed to return to their ancestral villages, where they must vote.
The vote itself was marred by irregularities, with Lebanese monitoring groups and social media users sharing videos of party supporters harassing their opponents, following voters at polling stations and influencing their choices with cash and other gifts.
A European Union monitoring mission described the campaign in an initial report released Tuesday as “vibrant but marred by several instances of harassment, including on social media, and cases of obstruction of the campaign.”
The election was skewed, the report said, due to “high campaign revenue, which has seen a culture of in-kind and financial allocations for election purposes by institutions owned or controlled by candidates or parties.”
Hwaida Saad and Asmaa al-Omar reporting contributed.