Lebanese polls signal change but not stability - GulfToday

Lebanese polls signal change but not stability

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati speaks at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon

Najib Mikati

The trends in Lebanese elections held on Sunday have thrown up an interesting outcome. The Hezbollah, the influential Shia formation in Lebanese politics, has lost its majority, which it had gained in the 2018 election. This should not come as a surprise in a democracy because democracy denotes change and churning.

The Hezbollah will get its allocated constitutional share of 27 seats out of Lebanese Parliament’s 128. The surprise is that of the conspicuous emergence of independents, who do not belong to the powerful Sunni and Shia groupings. The independents are looking at Lebanon’s economic crisis and looking beyond the country’s fractured politics. It must be seen whether they can bring news ideas to the table and whether they can ensure political stability, which is a prerequisite for economic recovery. But political observers seem to suggest that the two traditional groups opposed to each other, the Sunni group and its Christian allies and the Shia group and its Christian allies will find it difficult to form a government soon enough. And until there is a government, it would not be possible to negotiate either with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or the World Bank (WB) to work out an economic rescue package which is teetering over the edge.

Hezbollah’s Christian ally, Free Patriotic Movement, founded by President Michel Aoun, has lost out to the right-wing Christian group, Lebanese Forces, in traditional Christian strongholds. Christian Lebanese Forces has gained the most. Christian Lebanese Forces has been the most vocal critic of Hezbollah and the support it got from Iran. Another traditional Hezbollah to lose is that of the Druze party. The Christian Lebanese Forces claimed that they won 20 seats and the independents won 10. Most of the independents are those who led the protests in 2019 the government as the economic crisis flared up. The Shia leaders believe that they garner 64 seats, a comedown from the 71 they had in the outgoing parliament.

In terms of regional power politics, it can be inferred that this election is a setback to Iran’s influence in Lebanon through Hezbollah, and the Sunni groups gain an upper hand. But the rivalry between the Shia and Sunni groups will continue to pull Lebanon in opposite directions, and this could harm the economic recovery of the country.

If pragmatism is to prevail in the critical political and economic conditions in Lebanon, the two big groups of Sunnis and Shiites and their respective allies must join hands in dealing with the challenges ahead. It would be unrealistic to dismiss the deeply entrenched rivalries between the two major formations, but there must be a temporary truce if the country has to move out of the economic troubles.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati is planning to hold consultations to form a government, but these talks have to be quick and short. Through 2021, it became difficult for the Sunni groups to form a government because they could not muster majority and President Michel Aoun had to reject them all. In the face of a sinking economy, protracted talks over formation of government could prove to be costly. And it will also become necessary to the Sunnis and Shias to reach out to each other across the aisle to make the government work, pass the necessary laws and put Lebanon back on the rails.

Political differences and rivalries will persist, but there is need for short-term strategy for national unity to meet national emergency. Peace and stability in Lebanon are important for the region, and the problems of Lebanon are not that of Lebanon alone. They create problems for others in the region.

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