In the two Shia-majority areas of southern Lebanon and the northern Beqaa Valley, relatively well-organised alternative political forces have risen to challenge Hezbollah and Amal, even if their ability to undermine the power of the parties is likely to remain limited. In their relations with other allies, Hezbollah and Amal have also had to contend with the growing willingness of those forces to affirm themselves politically. For instance, Hezbollah has shown irritation with Bassil, the Aounistsʹ chief election strategist, who has sought to dictate terms to his closest allies in the formation of joint candidate lists.

The role of Hezbollah

This leads to a question that many people are asking today, both domestically and abroad: will Hezbollah remain the dominant force in Lebanon after the election? And what can we expect from the aftermath?

The likelihood is that Hezbollah will continue to retain a dominant national role, thanks to the probable fragmentation of the political landscape, a process that the law on proportional representation will only exacerbate.
Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah is seen on a video screen as he addresses his supporters in Beirut, 10 November 2017 (photo: Reuters/Aziz Taher)
A loss of traction: Hezbollahʹs participation in the Syrian conflict has drained the Shia community. The Shia, like all other Lebanese communities, are suffering from the shortcomings of their political representatives. Thanks to the new election law, however, there is a chance that rivals of Hezbollah and Amal within the Shia community could potentially enter political life through the cracks of proportional representation

Because of the erosion of March 14, rising competition within other sects (with new Sunni figures challenging Saad Hariri, Christian competition over who will succeed Aoun, and the fact that Druze leader Walid Joumblatt is having to share the Druze scene with rivals), and a Shia speaker of parliament, Nabih Berri, who is older and feebler, therefore will have less latitude to manoeuver with regard to Hezbollah, it appears that the party will retain its strength in the years ahead.

Moreover, divisive issues such as Hezbollahʹs weapons and the controversy over its participation in regional conflicts are almost entirely absent from the electoral campaigns, indicating implicit acceptance of the partyʹs domestic hegemony.

Failure of civil society

If there had seemed to be one bright spot in the elections it was the promise of civil society. After the prominent role played by civil society groups in the garbage crisis of 2015, as well as in the municipal elections of 2016, optimism seemed possible. However, this was not to be.

Falling into the long-established traps of Lebanese politics, civil society groups ended up losing some strong figures to traditional political forces, sometimes even choosing to ally themselves with members of the same political class they pretend to be contesting.

For the silent majority, this will probably leave a bitter taste. It will also heighten voter apathy and a feeling of estrangement towards a political system that, through its ability to co-opt, bribe and sideline meaningful debate, has shown a remarkable capacity to survive.

Joseph Bahout

© Carnegie Middle East Center 2018

Joseph Bahout is a visiting scholar in Carnegie’s Middle East Program. His research focusses on political developments in Lebanon and Syria, regional spillover from the Syrian crisis and identity politics across the region.

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