BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanon’s new parliament is due to meet for the first time on Wednesday and is expected to reelect Shi’ite politician Nabih Berri as speaker, a post he has held since 1992.
The heavily armed Shi’ite movement Hezbollah together with groups and individuals that are politically aligned to it won at least 70 of parliament’s 128 seats in the May 6 election.
The result was a political boost for the Iran-backed group, which declared it “a victory” for the “choice of the resistance”, a reference to its powerful arsenal that has been a major point of contention in Lebanon for years.
Differences - and in some cases conflict - between some parties in the Hezbollah-aligned camp means it does not operate with unified goals in domestic politics, and Hezbollah does not see eye to eye with its allies on all issues.
But for Hezbollah it has been politically vital to have their support for its possession of arms, which it says are needed to deter Israel and - in more recent years - to protect Lebanon from Islamist insurgents in Syria. tmsnrt.rs/2IsdkeT
Here is the breakdown:
HEZBOLLAH, GROUPS AND INDIVIDUALS ALIGNED TO IT
HEZBOLLAH - 12 SEATS
Founded in 1982 by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and deemed a terrorist group by the United States, Hezbollah is the most powerful group in Lebanon thanks to a heavily armed militia that has fought several wars with Israel.
It has grown militarily stronger since joining the war in neighboring Syria in 2012 in support of President Bashar al-Assad.
THE AMAL MOVEMENT - 13 SEATS
The Shi’ite Amal Movement is led by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and has been closely aligned with Hezbollah since the end of Lebanon’s 1975-90 civil war. Amal has maintained very close ties to the Syrian government since it was founded in 1974.
SMALL HEZBOLLAH ALIGNED PARTIES - 14 SEATS
These include the Maronite Christian Marada party, the Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party, the Baath Party, the Armenian Tashnag and the Druze Lebanese Democratic Party, which were all represented in the previous parliament.
In addition, the heads of four Hezbollah-aligned parties that were not part of the last parliament won Sunni seats this time. They are Osama Saad, Abdulrahim Mrad, Adnan Trabulsi and Faisal Karami.
INDEPENDENTS ALIGNED WITH HEZBOLLAH AND AMAL - 11 SEATS
This group includes non-Shi’ites who are politically aligned with Hezbollah and Amal and ran on lists backed by the parties.
Several prominent Hezbollah supporters running as independents have also returned to public office for the first time since the withdrawal of Syrian forces in 2005.
Among them is Jamil al-Sayyed, a retired Shi’ite general and close friend of Assad, who ran as independent and is a staunch supporter of Hezbollah and its regional allies.
THE FREE PATRIOTIC MOVEMENT (FPM) - 20 SEATS
The FPM, founded by Maronite Christian politician Michel Aoun, has been a political ally of Hezbollah since 2006. The alliance is particularly important to Hezbollah because the FPM is the biggest Christian force in parliament.
Hezbollah’s backing for Aoun was vital to his bid to become head of state, a goal he finally realised in 2016 in a political deal that saw Saad al-Hariri become prime minister.
Aoun has said Hezbollah’s weapons are critical to the defense of Lebanon. In an interview last year, he said the U.S.-backed Lebanese army was not strong enough to confront Israel and so Hezbollah’s arms were a necessity.
Aoun said after the 2018 election he intended to call a national dialogue to address issues including “a national defense strategy” - a phrase that implies discussion of Hezbollah’s arms - but without giving further details.
His son-in-law, FPM leader Gebran Bassil, came under fire in Lebanon last year for saying Lebanon did not have an ideological problem with Israel. But in his role as foreign minister, Bassil has acted in Hezbollah’s interests at the Arab League.
Nasrallah said in April the FPM alliance remained strong but this did not mean the parties had become one.
GROUPS THAT OPPOSE HEZBOLLAH ARMS
FUTURE MOVEMENT - 20 SEATS
Led by Saad al-Hariri, Future lost more than a third of its seats, but it remains the biggest Sunni-led party.
Hariri led a Saudi-backed alliance through years of political conflict with Hezbollah and its allies that spilled into a brief civil war in 2008 over the group’s arms. The “March 14” alliance won a majority in 2009, but began disintegrating after the election and suffered from waning Saudi support.
Hariri still wants Hezbollah disarmed but says this is an issue that should be resolved by dialogue at the regional level. His focus is on reviving the stagnant economy and reforming the heavily indebted state.
THE LEBANESE FORCES (LF) - 15 SEATS
Led by Maronite Christian politician Samir Geagea, the Lebanese Forces is Hezbollah’s most significant Christian opponent. The LF, which emerged from a powerful civil war militia, has also been fiercely critical of Hezbollah’s role in the war in neighboring Syria.
It is one of the biggest winners in the election, almost doubling its seats. Geagea said the result showed “March 14” still enjoys popular support.
THE KATAEB PARTY, OTHERS - 5 SEATS
The Kataeb, also known as the Phalange Party, is led by Maronite Christian politician Sami Gemayel, who took over the leadership from his father, former President Amin Gemayel.
Separately, at least two other of the newly elected MPs are known to have positions opposed to Hezbollah’s weapons.
PROGRESSIVE SOCIALIST PARTY (PSP) - 9 SEATS
Led by Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, the PSP has wavered on the issue of Hezbollah’s arms over the years. It was a pillar of the March 14 alliance until the 2009 election, but repositioned itself in the political center after that vote.
Jumblatt said last year that Hezbollah itself should be the one to decide when its weapons are put up for discussion.
OTHERS - 9 SEATS
These include political independents such as former Prime Minister Najib Mikati, veteran Christian politician Michel al-Murr and others whose views on Hezbollah and its arms could not immediately be confirmed.
Reporting by Beirut bureau; Writing by Tom Perry, Editing by William Maclean
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