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Lebanon held its first parliamentary election in nine years, and Hezbollah and its political allies won seats, while Saad Hariri’s Western-backed, Saudi-allied coalition was weakened. Yet journalist Jamal Ghosn says the Lebanese political system is still stacked in favor of the rich.
BEN NORTON: It’s the Real News. I’m Ben Norton.
Lebanon has held its first parliamentary election in nine years, and the Shia nationalist party Hezbollah and its political allies have made historic gains. On the other hand, Lebanon’s western-backed Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who is allied with Saudi Arabia, and his party the Future Movement lost several seats in parliament. Michel Aoun, the Maronite Christian President of Lebanon, and his party the Free Patriotic Movement gained seats. And at the same time, the right-wing Israel backed Christian party, the Lebanese Forces, made a big gain, doubling its seats.
Joining us today to analyze the results of the election in Lebanon is Jamal Ghosn. Jamal is a writer and political commentator, and the former managing editor of Al Akhbar English. Thanks for joining us, Jamal.
JAMAL GHOSN: Thank you, Ben.
BEN NORTON: So can you just react to this election? I mean, this is a historic parliamentary election, the first in nine years. And Hezbollah and its allies made very significant gains while Hariri lost seats. What do you think the significance of this is?
JAMAL GHOSN: Well, first of all, I want to point out one thing about one of the parties that made the big game today. You called them the Israeli-backed Lebanese Forces, and this is inaccurate. They may have been allies with Israel at some point when Israel occupied Lebanon and when they invaded in the ’80s. But this is no longer the case. The Lebanese Forces repented, and they have now, I mean, they are a Lebanese party that, they have some suspect regional alliances like many, like their former allies in the Future Movement. They have some backing from Saudi Arabia and the U.S. But there is no relationship with Israel at this time, at least not an open one.
BEN NORTON: That’s an important correction. Historically they were allied with Israel, but not any more.
JAMAL GHOSN: Yes. And they did make significant gains today in today’s results, yesterday’s election. And mainly it is because of the election law that was, for the first time, used for the first time in Lebanon, which basically allowed smaller parties to take more control of of the vote. And it’s, it’s more a proportional representation. And this benefited them as well as other Christian parties which, over the past 30 years, have had their votes kind of overshadowed by the other parties who, Muslim parties who had more of a control over the electoral districts and whatnot.
Because, but even with that, this election law has many flaws, including the way that districts are gerrymandered. There is, there are many areas in, if you look at the rich Beirut district of what was what’s called Beirut 1, it’s a vote of, or if you get 6000 votes, you would get into parliament, while in some of the poorer areas in the periphery in Lebanon you would need up to 20000 votes to break in. So a vote, a rich Christian vote in Beirut is worth as much as three or four votes of other citizens in other parts of the country. This is a major flaw. This does kind of question the legitimacy of the vote. But all the political, major political powers in Lebanon agreed on this, and they turned a blind eye to that. And, and this is what we have today.
So this is a vote, for the first time it’s proportional. It has allowed for some of the parties and individuals who did not have the ability to compete with the big parties to score some gains and win some seats in parliament. And it’ll be interesting to see how the next parliament performs in light of a much more diverse pool of MPs.
BEN NORTON: And we see that the future movement and Hariri, who is allied with Saudi Arabia, we actually saw several months ago he was forced to resign on air in Saudi Arabia, but has since returned to power in Lebanon. We saw that his party lost seats, and Hezbollah and its allies, among others, have gained seats. Can you respond to this development, and what do you think the effect will be in Lebanese politics?
JAMAL GHOSN: Well, he was expected to lose seats no matter what because his former bloc was inflated because of what I mentioned earlier of the election law that was tailor-made for Hariri, back in, back in the days when they won. It even goes back to the days of his father, when they tailor-made election law to create as much, as big a bloc as possible for him. But yes. So, but by implementing a more fair law, it automatically was going to reduce the size of the Hariri bloc.
What’s surprising is that even with this expected loss, I think the turnout in his strongholds was lower than expected, and he lost more seats and he would have liked to. And this is, I mean, there are many factors for that. You mentioned the relationship that’s no longer in its prime with Saudi Arabia. He was kidnapped, and some reports say tortured by the Saudi crown prince. And this has, they tried to mend this relationship because they have a mutual interest, they didn’t want to lose their men in Lebanon, after their failed coup attempt against Hariri.
But that never, I mean, it was never going to reach that level that they had before. And at the same time, the Hariri movement in general has weakened, and not to mention his bad financial situation. That has reflected badly, because he’s lost a lot of loyalists who used to work in his companies, whether in Saudi Arabia or in Lebanon. And he has been, he has fired many and not paid the dues of many of these workers. So that has generated a lot of anger in his stronghold, especially in the city of Saida, where he’s from. And so you could see that in the election results.
BEN NORTON: Yeah. And then what do you think of, Hezbollah and its allies gained significant numbers of seats. What will the influence of that be in Lebanese politics?
JAMAL GHOSN: I mean, it will not change much in terms of the politics because they always kind of had veto power. Now they have officially the ability to veto or not to, basically, in parliament because Hezbollah and their allies have now over a third of the seats, or their direct allies. They have other allies like FPM, which would put them well over half the seats of parliament.
But right now they have an official veto power, even though in Lebanese [confessional] system, if one of the major sects in Lebanon, here we’re talking about Sunnis, Shia, or the Christians decide to oppose something, it is mainly, I mean, it’s considered a veto power even though it’s not officially a veto power. So now it’s official in terms of constitutional votes, but they always had that. So this is not going to change anything. The only thing is it changes, I mean, there was the rhetoric coming into the elections, especially since this is the first election in nine years, is that Hezbollah involvement in regional wars, mainly in Syria, has cost them dearly among their followers in Lebanon.
This was what the mass media that’s controlled by Saudi Arabia, and the Western media, tried to portray over the years, over the past seven years of conflict. And they always tried to show how there is resistance to Hezbollah and their involvement in Syria. This vote can put an end to that. They’ve been the people who were loyal to Hezbollah, and seem to be more than ever. And this basically will put an end to that. It was mainly a propaganda war to try to get at them. But this is, but in fact in terms of, like I said, in terms of legislation and whatnot, this does not change much.
BEN NORTON: And then, finally, these parliamentary elections had originally been scheduled for 2013 and they were delayed. Can you talk about why they were delayed? And what do you think the significance of this election will be for the Lebanese political system? Is there going to be more electoral regularity in the future?
JAMAL GHOSN: Well, I mean, they delayed it because they didn’t feel they would be questioned, and they were right. The political powers are still the same ones. There’s still, you know, a slice, a slight change in who has what slice. But overall it’s the same political players, and they felt obliged right now to carry the elections just to maintain the act of having a state. Because by every other indication, the Lebanese state is a failing state. In terms of infrastructure it’s in very bad shape. In terms of its financial situation it’s not great. It’s drowning in debt, and it’s facing difficulties coming in and paying off these debtors.
So there’s major, major challenges for the state. And any cancellation of further elections would have really questioned the whole institutions, everything, the legitimacy of every institution in the country.
BEN NORTON: Well, unfortunately we’ll have to end it there. Thanks so much for joining us, Jamal. This is the discussion of the elections that happened on May 6 in Lebanon. Thanks for joining us here in the Real News.
JAMAL GHOSN: Thank you, Ben.
BEN NORTON: Reporting for the Real News, I’m Ben Norton.