On Tuesday, Hezbollah and its allies lost their edge in the Lebanese parliament, winning 62 of the 128 parliamentary seats, three fewer than the 65 needed to retain a voting majority, according to Reuters.
Independent journalists in the region say the parliamentary changes are cause for tempered hope. While many new, independent candidates were voted in and some of the “old guard” were voted out — both suggestive of positive change in a country rattled by economic meltdowns, demonstrations and uncertainty — fact-checkers still view Lebanon’s governing future as up in the air.
Journalists at Maharat News, a Beirut-based news and fact-checking outlet, said it’s difficult to operate in Lebanon under the current parliament. In late April, three weeks before the elections, the Supervisory Commission of Elections in Lebanon ordered Maharat to stop its election-related work, saying that Maharat News was participating “in accompanying and supervising the elections illegally.”
“The work of keeping pace with the elections and monitoring their course without submitting an application for approval to the commission is considered a violation, according to the SCE’s interpretation,” said a press release from Maharat Foundation, the parent organization to the Lebanese news outlet.
“They were supposed to do the work that we do,” said Layal Bahnam, program manager at Maharat Foundation. That work included monitoring how much candidates are paying for advertisements and matching that to regulated ceilings of spending. “But this is a failed state and the institutions do not work. There’s no rule of law and no financial resources. Even the Supervisory Commission of Elections did not have any resources to do any work.”
Political customs in Lebanon also make fact-checking during the parliamentary elections a challenge, Bahnam said.
“No one had platforms, electoral platforms,” she said. “So this is why fact-checking work was really hard. If candidates don’t have programs, they don’t state any facts. All the discourses were just playing on emotions.”
Lebanon’s government is sectarian; seats in parliament and other government institutions are reserved for specific ethnic and religious backgrounds, proportional to that group’s population. While it ensures representation, it can sometimes impede action.
“While the results were really great, because some of — we call them dinosaurs — are out of the parliament,” said Bahnam, referring to the elder statesmen who have served the failing parliament for multiple decades. “Whether that will lead to change, we just don’t know.”
In 2018, Hezbollah and its allies won 71 seats, nine more than they currently hold.
“People are changing when you look at the numbers, and you see how many people voted for new candidates,” Bahnam said. “But with our complicated, proportional system, it’s really hard to have too much change, especially without clear alternative leaders.”