Alexander Corbeil, a fellow with The SecDev Foundation and a digital fellow with the Montreal Institute for Genocide Studies at Concordia University. Follow him on Twitter @alex_corbeil.
On May 6, Lebanese citizens will go to the polls to vote for in the country’s first parliamentary election since 2009, in large part due to the civil war in neighboring Syria. A conflict in which Hezbollah, Lebanon’s main Shia political party and most powerful military force, has come to the aid of the Bashar al-Assad, helping to ensure his dictatorship’s survival.
For Hezbollah, Sunday’s election is about maintaining control over its strongholds and taking advantage of a new electoral system based on proportional representation. In the south, Hezbollah will certainly maintain control over its traditional constituency. Hezbollah faces tougher competition in the east of the country in both the Rashaya-West Bekaa (Bekaa II) and the Baalbek-Hermel (Bekaa III) districts. In Bekaa II, its coalition with the Amal Movement will face off against another a coalition combining the Sunni-dominated Future Movement and the Druze-led Progressive Socialist Party. Bekaa III sees the Hezbollah-Amal alliance face the Future Movement and Christian Lebanese Forces Party. In each, the opposition looks to limit Hezbollah’s electoral victories.
On May 1, Hezbollah’s Secretary General, Hassan Nasrallah, delivered a speech to supporters in the city of Baalbek in which he stated, “the victories [in Syria and against Israel] and achievements for which a very high cost was paid should be protected with your votes,” telling supporters that the Future Movement must be held responsible for the impoverishment of marginalized Lebanese regions, particularly Baalbek-Hermel. Nasrallah further claimed that the Sunni political party conspired with terrorist groups, a reference to Syrian rebels and fighters from al-Qaeda and the self-proclaimed Islamic State—which had previously threatened the area from their bases along the Lebanese-Syrian border but were defeated by Hezbollah. The fact that one of the candidates Hezbollah is backing in Bekaa III, Jamil al-Sayyed, is the former head of Lebanon’s General Security Directorate adds a personal dimension to this electoral struggle. Al-Sayyed was previously accused of assassinating Future Movement leader Saad Hariri’s father and former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and thus the Future Movement and Lebanese Forces will try their hardest to defeat him.
The parliamentary election will do little to change the status quo for Hezbollah. Even if Jamil al-Sayyed loses in the Bekaa III district, the party will likely benefit from the introduction of new pro-Syrian independents into the parliament, their election made possible by the new electoral law and at the expense of Hezbollah’s rivals. Elsewhere, Hezbollah has ensured its control through the intimidation of Shia political hopefuls who are running as independents, in one case assaulting a candidate as he put up campaign posters. Hezbollah may emerge stronger, but while this may enable it to ask for more important ministerial portfolios, it will not gain political dominance, leaving it the option to join a unity government. Overall, save for an unforeseen and unprecedented upset for Hezbollah, it will probably be politics as usual. The lasting effect will instead be supporters’ deepening perception, propagated by Nasrallah and other Hezbollah leaders, that its political opponents are not only stifling economic development but if given the chance, would completely destroy their movement.