Hezbollah allies gain in Lebanon vote in apparent boost for Iran

A day after Lebanon's first general election in nine years, Hezbollah and its allies look set to secure a bloc large enough to block attempts for it to disarm, a longstanding demand of its political enemies.

"My hand is extended to every Lebanese who participated in the elections to preserve stability and create jobs", Hariri said in a televised statement Monday.

Lebanon held a much-delayed general election Sunday, with a new civil society list hoping for a breakthrough but traditional parties expected to renew their fragile power-sharing bargain. The war has divided the country, pitting parties supporting the Iran-sponsored Hezbollah's intervention in Syria to aid President Bashar Assad against Saudi-aligned parties opposed to it.

The Hezbollah group is considered a terrorist organization by the United States, while the European Union lists Hezbollah's military wing as terrorist, differentiating between its military and political activities.

Lebanon's president must always be Maronite Christian, the prime minister Sunni Muslim and the parliament speaker a Shia Muslim.

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.

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Voter turnout amounted to 49.2% (in the previous parliamentary elections in Lebanon that took place nine years ago, the turnout was around 54%).

The first blatant truth produced by the elections is that Hezbollah has become more powerful and has won overwhelming legitimacy.

The constitution stipulates that parliament is equally split between Muslims and Christians, whose biggest party, led by President Michel Aoun has been a Hezbollah ally.

Lebanon has often been a scene where the rivalry between the region's two heavyweights Iran and Saudi Arabia has played out, but their political clients in this election seemed content to maintain the status quo.

According to a Reuters calculation based on preliminary results for almost all seats, Hezbollah and its political allies such as the Amal Movement and Free Patriotic Movement have won 67 out of the parliament's 128 seats.

The result, if confirmed by the final count, would boost Hezbollah politically, and further reflects Iran's increasing political influence in the area.

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Hezbollah's gains in the Lebanese election on Sunday show that the state is indistinguishable from the Iranian-backed Shi'ite group, and that Israel should not distinguish between them in any future war, an Israeli security cabinet minister said. Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk said the results will be announced on Monday. The rival sides are expected to recreate the unity government that now exists, which includes Hezbollah.

On May 6, the first in nine years parliamentary elections were held. However, the election results coupled with hardening external views about the economic and political state of Lebanon could pose new variables in a country that can ill afford them.

As many as 800,000 voters under the age of 30 were expected to cast ballots for the first time.

Though having enjoyed relative peace due to the delicate political balance reached among the Christians, Muslims and the Hezbollah since the 1975-1990 civil war, Lebanon has always been ruled by traditional powers including previous warlords and influential families.

Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk announced the turnout figure at a news conference shortly after midnight and appeared to blame it on the new electoral law agreed past year.

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