Excitement, trepidation, relief and a renewed trust in democracy: this is how many Lebanese-Australians are feeling after Lebanon’s election results trickled in.

Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group and its allies have lost the parliament majority they had held since 2018, according to final results from the Lebanese election on Sunday.

Vocal opponents and more than a dozen independents have made significant gains, toppling Hezbollah and the powerful stronghold the group had on the country.

Alternative politicians won at least 13 seats, a major feat for new parliamentarians who faced intimidation and threats by entrenched traditional parties who have been ruling the country for decades.
Sari Haddad, a Lebanese migrant living in Australia, said he was amazed by the results.

“The future of Lebanon is now heading in the right direction, instead of being lost in the world,” Mr Haddad said.

He believes the election outcomes are a direct consequence of the anger that was fuelled by members of the diaspora like himself – who voted out Hezbollah members – and voted “new, fresh blood” into parliament.

“People are fighting for [Lebanon], not only on the streets but inside the parliament, and people are looking for reform, to become a functioning government,” he said.

“The power has shifted in the parliament from being a pro-Hezbollah majority away from a pro-Hezbollah majority.

“Lebanon can now see ahead, with good reform in the government and lots of investment we desperately need to get out of this financial crisis.”

Sunday’s parliamentary elections were the first since Lebanon’s economic meltdown began in late 2019, sparking a wave of anger towards the government’s members who have been branded by opponents as corrupt and thieving.

Since ‘al-thawra’, or the revolutionary protests that erupted in October 2019,
millions of Lebanese worldwide fought in unity against the government that has been held accountable by its people for the unprecedented turmoil the country was facing.

More than 75 per cent of Lebanese residents have since plummeted into poverty, according to the United Nations, and many have been left without food or access to clean water with only a few hours of electricity a day.

Supply of medicines is also scarce and patients have been denied hospital beds due to a severe lack of resources.

The Lebanese pound has lost 95 per cent of its value since the 2019 meltdown. Banks have frozen all bank holders’ assets, leaving both residents and diaspora with money they cannot access, and the unemployment rate more than doubling since 2009.

It was also the first time Lebanese people took to the polls since the deadly Beirut blast that killed 218 people, wounded thousands and devastated the country

For many residents living in Lebanon and its massive diaspora population, the election results are both a symbol and tangible action for change.

Alongside Mr Haddad, Sara Skaf is another one of the 11,328 Lebanese-Australians who dipped her thumb in purple ink and voted in the election in western Sydney.

Ms Skaf admitted she was glued to her phone for days as the results were announced by Lebanon’s interior ministry. Now, after seeing 14 members speak for her in parliament, she can breathe a sigh of relief.

“There was initially a lot of pessimism, particularly leading up to the elections … it was obvious that it was your traditional parties [who were present at the polling centres],” she said.

She was afraid the effort she put in to garner Lebanese diaspora votes would be “lost in vain”, but has come out happy with the results.

“It’s promising is great to see that there are new fresh faces and people who are very worthy of such positions to actually be part of parliament.”
The winners and losers
The Hezbollah-led coalition won 61 seats in the 128-member legislature, a drop of 10 members since the last vote was held in 2018.

The loss was largely due to setbacks suffered by Hezbollah’s Christian partners, the Free Patriotic Movement founded by President Michel Aoun, and several of Hezbollah’s traditional allies who lost seats in the south of Lebanon.

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.

The biggest winner turned out to be the nationalist Christian Lebanese Forces party led by Samir Geagea, one of the harshest critics of Hezbollah and its Iranian backers. Another big winner is Druze leader Walid Joumblatt whose group won all eight seats they were running for.

The Lebanese Forces now has the largest bloc in parliament with 19 seats, overtaking Hezbollah’s main Christian allies of the Free Patriotic Movement. The movement now holds 17 seats, a drop of three seats from the previous vote.

The results also portend a sharply polarised parliament, divided between pro and anti-Hezbollah lawmakers who will face difficulties in forming a new government, tasked with enacting reforms for financial recovery.

It isn’t uncommon for Lebanon to live through a government deadlock. After the resignation of then-prime minister Hassan Diab after the Beirut blast, the country drudged through 13 months of an economic crisis without a formed government

Mr Haddad said he is worried about how the government will be able to work together this time around.

“That’s quite scary because forming a government in Lebanon has always been a very tough thing to do,” he said.

The newly elected members from different folds of Lebanese society with competing political interests will be forced to work towards strategic alliances to form a majority – a challenge that will not be an easy one to wrangle.

“I am worried about how this will go. Now the balance has shifted. It will not be easy, but we have someone who will speak for us, who will vote against the people who don’t represent a prosperous gain in Lebanon’s government.”

With two main blocs – Hezbollah and the Lebanese Forces – opposed to each other, analysts said the results could lead to more paralysis at a time when the country desperately needs unity.

The biggest loss came to Hezbollah’s allies with close links to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government, including 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.

Source » sbs