Hezbollah reportedly on track to extend political gains in Lebanon

  • Shia-militant group Hezbollah and its political allies were thought to be on course to win more than half of the seats in the Lebanese parliament.
  • Fewer than half of Lebanon's registered voters turned up to cast their ballots on Sunday, according to the country's interior minister.
  • The country's official result is expected to be announced on Monday morning.

Lebanon's first national election in nine years could result in a stronger Hezbollah, preliminary results show, following an election marred by low voter turnout amid frustration over the country's endemic corruption problems.

Shia-militant group Hezbollah and its political allies were thought to be on course to win more than half of the seats in the Lebanese parliament, according to preliminary results cited by Beirut's media on Monday.

A simple parliamentary majority for the Iranian-backed party, which is seen as a terrorist group by the U.S. and an enemy of neighboring Israel, would likely embolden the political standing of Lebanon's Hezbollah group at a time of heightened regional uncertainty.

Israel has already reacted to the prospect of a stronger political position for Hezbollah with Naftali Bennett, education minister of Israel's conservative coalition government, tweeting on Monday that "Hezbollah = Lebanon."

"The State of Israel will not differentiate between the sovereign State of Lebanon and Hezbollah, and will view Lebanon as responsible for any action from within its territory," he added.

Low voter turnout

The vote, which is Lebanon's first parliamentary election since war broke out in neighboring Syria in 2011, had been hailed by lawmakers as a breakthrough moment for a nation stuck in the middle of a regional power struggle between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

However, fewer than half of Lebanon's registered voters turned up to cast their ballots on Sunday, according to the country's interior minister. That's lower than the turnout recorded in 2009 and far below analysts' expectations.

A Lebanese Sunni cleric puts his checked ballot in the box as he casts his vote in the first parliamentary election in nine years, at a polling station in the capital Beirut on May 6, 2018.
Anwar Amro | AFP | Getty Images
A Lebanese Sunni cleric puts his checked ballot in the box as he casts his vote in the first parliamentary election in nine years, at a polling station in the capital Beirut on May 6, 2018.

A drop in voter turnout came despite a reformulated electoral system designed to encourage citizens to cast their ballot through proportional representation.

The country's official result is expected to be announced on Monday morning.

Political deadlock

Voter apathy in Lebanon is perhaps not so surprising given the social and economic upheavals in the country in recent years.

Since its last election, Lebanon has been engulfed by a refugee crisis which has seen more than one million displaced Syrians stream over its borders, overwhelming the country of around 4.5 million. It also suffered an ongoing waste management crisis during which trash piled up in city streets, went two years without an effective government, experienced a sharp rise in public debt, witnessed multiple terrorist attacks, and had its prime minister temporarily resign in what many described as a kidnapping.

Nonetheless, what has been consistent over the past decade, many Lebanese citizens say, is entrenched corruption, cronyism and political deadlock that's prevented the government from fixing its most pressing problems.

— CNBC's Natasha Turak contributed to this report.