Lebanon's parliamentary election raises hopes for changes

Lebanon celebrates its first parliamentary election on Sunday in nine years

Lebanon's parliamentary election raises hopes for changes

Lebanese Sunni allies of Hariri partly blamed Saudi Arabia on Monday for the Future Movement's setbacks, arguing it had starved the Sunni bloc of funds in the run-up to the polls because of Riyadh's growing frustration with Hezbollah's tightening grip on Lebanon. The prime minister said on Monday the global community should look at the results of Lebanon's election in a "very positive way".

"The make-up of the new legislative chamber represents a guarantee and a great strength to protect this strategic choice and to protect the golden equation - the army, the people and the resistance", Nasrallah said.

Hezbollah-backed Sunnis did well in the cities of Beirut, Tripoli and Sidon, strongholds of Hariri's Future Movement, the unofficial results showed.

Lebanese election officials count ballots after the polling station closed during Lebanon's parliamentary election, in Beirut, Lebanon, May 6, 2018.

According to a Reuters calculation based on preliminary results for almost all seats, Hezbollah and its political allies such as the Amal Movement and Free Patriotic Movement have won 67 out of the parliament's 128 seats.

Hezbollah has grown militarily more powerful since 2012, deploying its fighters to Syria and Iraq where it has fought in support of Iranian allies.

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Lebanon held a much-delayed general election Sunday, with a new civil society list hoping for a breakthrough but traditional parties expected to renew their fragile power-sharing bargain.

As many as 800,000 voters under the age of 30 were expected to cast ballots for the first time.

Hezbollah's gains will fuel anxiety in Gulf capitals and Washington about Tehran's expanding political and military influence in the region, said analysts, just days before U.S. President Donald Trump is due to decide whether to keep the United States in the Iranian nuclear accord.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett said on Twitter that following these results, "the State of Israel will not differentiate between the sovereign State of Lebanon and Hezbollah".

Rival blocs in parliament could not agree on a new president between 2014-16 and repeatedly made a decision to delay elections, partly because of disagreement over moving from a winner-takes-all to a proportional voting system.

Hezbollah's allies include the Amal Movement led by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and the Christian Free Patriotic Movement founded by President Michel Aoun.

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The Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections reported over 7,000 polling violations in Sunday's elections.

Among the Christians, the right-wing Lebanese Forces party did particularly well, appearing to nearly double its number of seats from eight to 15. He is the scion of a famous political dynasty and son of late former prime minister Omar Karame, who was an ally of Damascus.

The low turnout — between 32 percent and 42 percent in Beirut precincts, according to Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk — betrayed widespread voter apathy for the main political currents governing the country and left open the possibility that outside candidates could win seats in Parliament.

Early results show that Hezbollah's bloc now has 13 members, one more than previously.

Aoun said the preferential vote was necessary as voters would likely prefer some candidates on the list to others.

Lawmakers had extended their own mandate three times since 2009, ostensibly over security concerns linked to the war in neighbouring Syria and political divisions that led to long and crippling institutional crises.

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Hariri said confusion over the new electoral process was behind the poor turnout.

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