Hezbollah and its political allies won just over half the seats in Lebanon’s parliamentary elections, unofficial results showed, boosting an Iranian-backed movement fiercely opposed to Israel and underlining Tehran’s growing regional influence.

If confirmed, the preliminary results cited by politicians and media might also add to the risks facing Lebanon, reliant on U.S. military help and hoping to secure billions of dollars in international aid and loans to revive its stagnant economy.

Branded a terrorist group by the United States, Hezbollah has grown in strength since joining the war in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad in 2012. Its powerful position in Lebanon reflects Tehran’s ascendancy in territory stretching through Iraq and Syria to Beirut.

The unofficial tally in the first parliamentary elections in nine years indicated sharp losses for Western-backed Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri. But he was still set to emerge as the Sunni Muslim leader with the biggest bloc in the 128-seat house, making him the frontrunner to form the next government.

Lebanon’s prime minister must be a Sunni in the country’s sectarian power-sharing system. The new government, like the outgoing one, is expected to include all the main parties. Talks over Cabinet posts are expected to take time.

International donors want to see Beirut embark on serious economic reforms to reduce state debt levels before they will release billions pledged at a Paris conference in April.

Lebanon has been a big recipient of foreign aid to help it cope with hosting one million refugees who fled the war in neighboring Syria, equal to one-in-four of the population.

The election was held under a complex new law that redrew constituency boundaries and changed the electoral system from winner-takes-all to a proportional one. The interior minister said official results would be declared on Monday.

Source » reuters