BEIRUT, May 13 (Reuters) – Lebanon is holding parliamentary elections on May 15, with candidates vying for 128 seats across 11 religious groups under a sectarian power-sharing system.
The vote is taking place against the backdrop of a devastating economic collapse and a boycott by leading Sunni Muslim politician Saad al-Hariri.
While reformist independents hope to dislodge ruling factions, established parties are still expected to maintain their grip. Read more
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Here are the main players:
Heavily armed, the Shia Muslim Hezbollah is the most powerful faction in Lebanon. Founded in 1982 by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Hezbollah is considered a terrorist organization by Western countries, including the United States. The European Union classifies its military wing as a terrorist group, but not its political wing.
Hezbollah’s military capabilities have increased since it entered the Syrian war to support President Bashar al-Assad. The group’s political influence in the country has also expanded since 2018 when, along with allies, it won a parliamentary majority.
Its influence over state affairs has been manifested in various ways, including controlling the Ministry of Health, which has one of the largest state budgets, from 2018 to 2021.
Hariri attributed his decision not to run in part to Iranian influence – a reference to Hezbollah – which has strained Lebanon’s ties with Arab Gulf states.
The Shia Amal movement is led by 84-year-old Nabih Berri, who has served as speaker of parliament since 1992. Berri has been one of Lebanon’s most powerful figures since the 1975-90 civil war in which Amal was a major combatant.
Known as the “Shia duo”, Hezbollah and Amal have long moved in the same political direction, dominating Shia politics.
Amal views Hezbollah’s arsenal as an asset to Lebanon and has sided with the group in conflicts with Lebanese adversaries who want it disarmed.
Aligned with Syria and Iran, Amal’s foreign ties mirror those of Hezbollah, though Hezbollah’s ties to the two run much deeper.
Hariri’s boycott has upended Sunni politics. Read more
The Future Movement created by his father – the assassinated former Prime Minister Rafic al-Hariri – dominated Sunni politics for decades.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati – another Sunni heavyweight and billionaire tycoon – is also not showing up.
Some future members left the party to run.
Anti-Hezbollah hawk Fouad al-Siniora, a former prime minister and member of the Future, is backing candidates but not running himself.
Hezbollah has many Sunni allies who could benefit from the Sunni political divide. They include the Ahbash movement, which has historical ties to Damascus.
THE FREE PATRIOTIC MOVEMENT (FPM)
The FPM was founded by Maronite Christian politician Michel Aoun, a former army commander who led one of two rival governments in the final years of the civil war and has been president since 2016.
The FPM has been the largest Christian bloc in parliament since Aoun’s return from exile in 2005. It has been allied with Hezbollah since 2006, saying its weapons have defended Lebanon. Critics say it offered Christian political cover for Hezbollah.
The FPM is led by Aoun’s son-in-law, Gebran Bassil. Washington imposed sanctions on Bassil in 2020, accusing him of corruption and helping Hezbollah destabilize Lebanon. Bassil called the sanctions unfair and politically motivated.
Some analysts believe the FPM could lose votes to its Christian rivals because of its prominent role in government before and during the financial collapse.
LEBANESE FORCES (LF)
The LF led by Maronite Christian Samir Geagea emerged from a powerful civil war militia of the same name. The LF is one of Hezbollah’s most vocal adversaries.
The FL has remained out of government since 2019, when then-Prime Minister Hariri resigned amid nationwide protests against the political elite.
The LF has close ties to Saudi Arabia and could benefit from any loss of support for the FPM.
He backed slates running against Hezbollah in the south of the country, usually a stronghold of the Iran-backed group, but candidates began dropping those slates as the vote approached.
Geagea led the FL during the last years of the war after the 1982 assassination of Bashir Gemayel, its founder. Geagea is the only Lebanese leader to have served a prison sentence for civil war violence. The others benefited from an amnesty.
THE PROGRESSIVE SOCIALIST PARTY (PSP)
Led by the Joumblatt family, the PSP is the most powerful Druze faction in Lebanon. Walid Joumblatt handed over the reins of the party to his son Taymour in 2018, but remains closely involved.
Jumblatt criticized Hezbollah’s growing influence and arsenal, and said Lebanon had been pushed away from its natural place in the Arab world – criticism of Iran’s influence.
Joumblatt, a major figure in the civil war, maintains good ties with Saudi Arabia.
The PSP faces challenges from several Druze factions that have close ties to Hezbollah and the Syrian government, including Talal Arslan and Wiam Wahhab.
THE MARADA MOVEMENT
Marada is led by Maronite Christian politician Suleiman Franjieh, a close Hezbollah ally and friend of Syrian leader Assad. Franjieh is considered a candidate to replace Aoun as president later this year.
Marada’s support is concentrated in northern Lebanon, near Franjieh’s ancestral home in Zgharta.
The Kataeb is led by Maronite Christian politician Samy Gemayel, who succeeded his father, former president Amin Gemayel.
Sami Gemayel came to the fore after the assassination of his brother, Pierre, in 2006 during a wave of assassinations targeting opponents of Syrian influence in Lebanon. The Kataeb opposes Hezbollah and its weapons. Its deputies resigned from parliament following the 2020 Beirut port explosion, and the party has sought to build a reform-minded coalition to stand for election.
The election is also contested by a handful of parties opposed to the traditional ruling elite. Some have run before and others are getting into electoral politics for the first time.
Despite months of negotiations, the different groupings have not been able to form a unified electoral platform or a coalition to present themselves at the national level.
Only one, a secular party founded in 2016 by a former minister and known as Citizens in a State, runs lists under a single banner in multiple districts.
The others have concocted district-by-district lists. Some districts have multiple opposing coalitions competing against each other, reducing their chances.
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Written by Tom Perry; Editing by Mike Collett-White
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