Hussam Itani

Lebanese Elections: Perpetuating Ties with the 'Resistance Axis' or Being Canceled

The objective of the upcoming Lebanese parliamentary elections is nothing less than tightening the country's ties with the "axis of resistance" and its project for the region. Several impediments stand in the way, which raises the specter of the electoral process being sabotaged at the last minute.

The vicious campaign launched by Hezbollah and its allies against the Christian opponents of the Free Patriotic Movement, especially the Lebanese Forces, can only be properly understood as part of the effort to limit the erosion of Christian support that the FPM has been giving the party. While it may be the county's strongest military force, it also needs to ensure a presence within other sects to avoid being isolated at the national level.

Hezbollah has been following this strategy since 2006, the year it signed the Mar Mikhael Agreement with the Aounist movement, and it has done everything in its power to maximize Aounist influence within state institutions and the FPM's popularity among Christians. The political benefits of the strategy were evident during all the misadventures that Hezbollah imposed on Lebanon - from the July 2006 war to the broad and bloody interference in the Syrian war, which began in 2012, up to the various ways in which the party became implicated in Yemeni war (allowing Houthi television stations to operate from Lebanon and helping the Houthis with their media, financial and logistic tasks are only a few examples).

In addition, the goal of tying Lebanon to the Iranian nuclear project, explicitly and repeatedly reiterated through threats to strike Israel in the event that it openly launches a military attack on the project, is very much on the axis of resistance agenda. This axis seeks to reproduce its domination of Parliament and achieve results similar to those of the 2018 elections. Given the rising improbability of the 2015 nuclear agreement between the United States and Iran being revived, Iran will certainly not give up on the tools to safeguard its project at its disposal, and Hezbollah is among the most prominent of those tools.

In the same vein, there is no harm reproducing a Sunni parliamentary bloc subservient to the party that mirrors the Consultative Gathering Bloc, which emerged after the last parliamentary elections and enlarged the image of "national support" Hezbollah is keen to maintain.

On the other hand, this effort is hindered by the extent of the socio-economic crisis that continues to shape the Lebanese people's lives two and a half years after it began, during which no initiative to contain it or vision to resolve it were put forward.

It goes without saying that the ruling coalition in Lebanon, whose primary guarantor is Hezbollah, has put all of its weight behind totally depoliticizing the economic crisis and hindering its association with the country's political system. They worked hard to draw the boundaries between socio-economic issues and the political significance of what has been happening since 2019.

The ruling clique refuses to accept the link between the policies that led to the great collapse and the manner in which Lebanon has been governed for years. Even before Michel Aoun became president, rivals were being assassinated and terrorized on a regular basis, and hostility to Arab countries was insisted on.

Thus, the candidates advocating reform and an alternative vision pose a direct threat to this project for the future of Lebanon, a key component of which is electing a new president that keeps the country in its current political orbit. At the same time, these candidatures could open the door to rapprochement with the Arab world if the regional climate allows. In other words: The task of the next president of the republic would be to monitor the changes in Arab-Arab and Arab-Iranian relations and benefit from them without leaving the "axis of resistance."

The realization of this policy requires a compliant parliament, which would be undermined by a bloc of deputies who are not concerned with this objective and insist on radical reform. The electoral battles in a number of Lebanese regions - including the North, Beirut and some districts in Mount Lebanon - could be shaped by "rogue" elements seeking to alter that electoral landscape that the Hezbollah coalition and the Aounist movement hope to see.

Against this background, we have seen hints that the electoral process could be aborted if it becomes apparent that the Free Patriotic Movement has indeed lost its capacity to provide adequate Christian cover for the party and if opinion polls reviewed behind closed doors and seen by a limited number of political leaders indicate unpleasant surprises for the axis. That would exacerbate the threats to the electoral process, and violent incidents could be provoked to leave the country with a new vacuum added to the absence of economic and financial solutions.

The entire narrative that there is no link between the ongoing collapse and the country's politics, which is intended to convince the Lebanese that the causes are purely economic and that it is the fault of a handful of corrupt officials, as well as obscuring the deep link between erroneous choices of Lebanese policymakers and the abyss into which it has descended, will be put to a tough test on election day. So far, the "actual ruler" is still reassured that his narrative of what had happened and his project for what will happen are safe.