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Lebanon's Hezbollah claims 'victory' after vote

09 May 2018

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.

Voter turnout in this year's election was at 49.2 percent, down from 54 percent in 2009.

The United States classifies Hezbollah as a terrorist organization; the European Union uses the terrorist label exclusively for Hezbollah's military wing.

In Lebanon, in order to maintain a balance of power between differing religions and denominations, the prime minister's post is traditionally held by a Sunni Muslim, while the speaker of Parliament is a Shia.

The new government, like the outgoing one, is expected to include all the main parties. It was the first time Lebanon's large expatriate community was allowed to take part in an election.

Worldwide 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.

Final results are expected to be announced on Monday evening, according to local media.

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What Hariri did achieve was a tiny breakthrough in the Baalbak-Hermel district in the northern Bekka, a traditional Hezbollah stronghold, where he managed to wrestle the Muslim seat from Hezbollah's control, along with the Christian seat, which went to his ally Samir Gagegea of the Lebanese Forces (LF), an all-Maronite party affiliated with Hariri's Future Movement.

The Hezbollah and Amal are reported to have won 29 seats in the Sunday's vote, while 11 more seats are predicted to have won by other political parties aligned with the two.

By all accounts, the biggest loser in Sunday's vote was Hariri's Future Movement party, which won only 21 seats, compared with 34 seats in the previous election, Nader said.

Both factions started as protest movements in the aftermath of the assassination of the former prime minister Rafik Hariri, and have been central to Lebanese society since.

"Hariri's loss would be the distinguishing mark of those elections, which can have penalties on the battle to kind a brand new authorities", the pro-Hezbollah Al-Akhbar day by day wrote earlier on Monday.

Lebanon's economy has been shattered by the seven-year civil war in Syria, its biggest trading partner, and a refugee crisis that has seen Lebanon reluctantly absorb 1.5 million Syrians.

No one knows when Hezbollah's militias are likely to withdraw from Syria, and a Saad Hariri government is unlikely to challenge the group to hand over its weapons or stop its stockpiling of ballistic missiles earmarked to destroy Israel, but clearly used to destroy Syria in the interim.

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Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah gestures as he addresses his supporters from a screen during a rally, in Mashghara village in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon April 15, 2018.

However, while they made gains, Hezbollah and its allies fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to make changes to the country's constitution.

The leader has also congratulated Lebanese people "for having expressed ir vote in democratic elections".

Hariri said that Lebanon "can only be governed by all its political components and those who say the opposite are fooling themselves".

Geagea is Hezbollah's most prominent Lebanese Christian opponent.

The question of Hezbollah's weapons has slipped down the political agenda in Lebanon in recent years.

Although he remains a Saudi ally in Lebanon, he is no longer the only Saudi ally in that country.

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Despite the emergence of independent groups participating in the vote on anti-establishment platforms, some Lebanese expressed deep scepticism their efforts would succeed.

Lebanon's Hezbollah claims 'victory' after vote