The Hezbollah group and its allies have scored significant gains in parliamentary elections in Lebanon while the Western-backed PM Saad Hariri’s Future Movement sustained losses, according to unofficial results.
The preliminary results, which are expected to match the official count, show that Mr Hariri, a Sunni politician with close ties to Saudi Arabia, has so far lost five seats in Beirut, once considered his party’s stronghold.
This indicates Sunni voters are losing faith in his party amid a stagnant economy and general exasperation over the civil war in neighbouring Syria, which has brought a million refugees to Lebanon.
Mr Hariri would still have the largest Sunni block in parliament, facilitating his return as prime minister to form the next government despite the losses.
Official results are expected to be announced later by interior minister Nouhad Machnouk.
The next government, like the outgoing one, is likely to be a unity government that incorporates Mr Hariri’s opponents from the Iran-backed Hezbollah group.
Hezbollah and its allies appear set to take at least 47 seats in the 128-seat parliament, which would enable them to veto any laws the Shiite militant group opposes.
The election, the first in nine years, was marked by a lower turnout than before, reflecting voter frustration over endemic corruption and a stagnant economy.
Mr Machnouk put national turnout at 49%, compared with 54% in 2009. In Beirut precincts, the turnout was between 32% and 42%.
The drop came despite a reformulated electoral law designed to encourage voting through proportional representation.
The preliminary results show two candidates from a civil society list — both of them women journalists — won seats in parliament.
That is considered a breakthrough for political outsiders who faced an uphill battle against Lebanon’s political titans and religious leaders.
The main race was between a Western and Saudi-backed coalition headed by Mr Hariri and the Tehran-backed Hezbollah, part of a region-wide power struggle that is tearing apart the Middle East.
The elections were the first since war broke out in neighbouring Syria in 2011, sending over a million refugees to Lebanon, a small country with a population estimated at around 4.5 million.
The war has divided Lebanon, pitting parties supporting Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria to aid President Bashar Assad’s forces against Saudi-aligned parties opposed to it.
According to the unofficial results, several pro-Syrian politicians allied with Hezbollah also won seats in the new parliament.