Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah movement appeared set on May 7 to secure a victory in general elections that were held during the weekend.
Preliminary results cited by politicians and Lebanese media suggest Hezbollah and its allies were on track to win more than half the seats in the 128-seat parliament.
If confirmed by a final count expected later on May 7, the results would boost Hezbollah politically – with parties and individuals aligned with the heavily armed group securing a simple majority.
However, unofficial results also indicated that Western-backed Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri would emerge as the Sunni Islamic leader with the biggest bloc in parliament, making him the front-runner to try to form the next government even though he lost seats.
Hezbollah’s powerful position in Lebanon reflects Iran’s growing power in the region. Hezbollah is classified as a terrorist group by the United States and is an enemy of neighboring Israel.
Responding to the preliminary results, Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennet said the May 6 election shows that the state of Lebanon is indistinguishable from the Iran-backed Shi’ite group.
“Israel will not differentiate between the sovereign State of Lebanon and Hezbollah and will view Lebanon as responsible for any action from with its territory,” Bennet said on Twitter on May 7. “Hezbollah = Lebanon.”
The vote, the first parliamentary election in Lebanon in nine years, was marked by a low voter turnout of 49.2 percent.
That was less than expected and below the 54 percent who cast ballots in the country’s previous general election in 2009.
More than 3.6 million people were eligible to vote for the nearly 600 candidates vying for the 128-seat parliament.
Observers said turnout was low in the capital, Beirut, and in northern Lebanon, but appeared to be higher in southern Lebanon where Hezbollah has its strongholds.