Israel warns Iran-backed Hezbollah 'equals Lebanon' after early election results


A Lebanese policewoman, right, stands next to women who are queuing to cast their vote at a ballot station during the Lebanon's parliamentary elections in a southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon.

Following the conclusion of a 15-year civil war in 1989, the Taif Accord requires that Lebanon's president is a Maronite Christian, its prime minister a Sunni Muslim, and parliament's speaker a Shia Muslim.

Rival blocs in parliament could not agree on a new president between 2014-16 and repeatedly chose to delay elections, partly because of disagreement over moving from a winner-takes-all to a proportional voting system.

Hezbollah as well as groups and individuals affiliated to it have won at least 67 seats in Lebanon's parliament, according to the results cited by politicians and campaigns and reported in Lebanese media. Turnout was 49.2 percent, according to officials.

It does not give Hezbollah overall power though.

The prime minister stressed that he was an ally of Lebanese President Michel Aoun, who is a central figure in the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) Christian party, though the differences with the Hezbollah Shiite party, a longtime ally of the FPM, would remain.

Some of Hariri's Sunni supporters saw him as being too soft on Hezbollah, and the billionaire businessman also faced criticism after sacking dozens of employees from his companies in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, largely due to Saudi spending cuts.

Unofficial results showed Iran-backed Hezbollah and its political allies won just over half the seats in Lebanon's election.

Hezbollah had been a dominant player in Lebanon before the election and its improved showing now comes at a time of heightened regional tensions between its patron, Iran, and arch foe, Israel, which in reaction to the result claimed there was no distinction between the party and state.

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The Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, said the party's goals had been achieved by the ballot, which has put it in a strong position for post-election negotiations that apportion ministries and control over state institutions.

Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah claimed victory on Monday after elections it said legitimised its military branch, leaving Saudi-backed Prime Minister Saad Hariri as the main loser.

The new rules are seen as unlikely to undermine the long-entrenched political elite, a group that includes local dynasties and former warlords.

The general election for Lebanon's 128-member parliament, Lebanon's first parliamentary elections in nine years, was held on Sunday, with over 500 candidates vying for seats. The Hezbollah leader called it "political and moral victory" for the resistance.

Among the Christians, the right-wing Lebanese Forces party did particularly well, appearing to nearly double its number of seats from eight to 15. Nasrallah said that he could not predict developments in the confrontation with Israel, but is confident that "we can't lose time" after winning the election.

The elections were the first since war broke out in neighbouring Syria in 2011, sending over 1 million refugees to Lebanon, a small country with a population estimated at around 4.5 million.

The Lebanon vote is to be followed on May 12 by an Iraqi election that is also set to underline Iran's reach, with one of three pro-Tehran Shi'ite leaders set to become prime minister.

"I've come to support civil society because there's nobody else I like in this country, but I doubt they will win", she said. That, along with the new electoral law, injected some unpredictability to the process.