Hezbollah makes gains in Lebanese election

Lebanon's parliamentary election raises hopes for changes

Hezbollah and allies set to win more than half of the seats in Lebanon parliament

The security presence was heavy around polling stations from early in the day and a Reuters witness saw a long military column of armoured vehicles and other troop carriers driving slowly into the capital.

President Michel Naim Aoun even had to call the electorate to come to polling stations an hour before the voting was closed. "I renew the appeal, if you wish to change and to establish a new approach, you must exercise your right".

In Tripoli, where several prominent Sunni politicians were vying to claim leadership of the city, Faisal Karame was elected to parliament for the first time. Hezbollah has sent thousands of its fighters to Syria to shore up President Bashar Assad's forces. Informal results are expected to start coming in overnight and official tallies in the coming days.

The polls were also marked by a low turnout of 49.2 percent and the emergence of a civil society movement challenging Lebanon's oligarchs that could clinch a pair of seats in parliament.

The election was conducted using a highly complicated new proportional law, with final results delayed as a result. They feared that the elections will lead to sharp destabilization of the situation. At the 2009 elections, it was 54%.

"We hope we will open a new era", said Mahmoud Daouk, voting in Beirut.

"This country is really bipolar", said Brjawi.

Hezbollah and its political allies won just over half the seats in Lebanon's parliamentary elections, unofficial results showed, boosting an Iranian-backed movement fiercely opposed to Israel and underlining Tehran's growing regional clout.

"This shows Lebanon's democracy and the importance of democracy".

What happened in Lebanon's elections is also an extension to what has been taking place in Syria, Iraq and Yemen: The advancement of Iran-backed groups.

"This is a new law and voters were not familiar with it, nor were the heads of polling stations", he said.

"During the last two or three years, it was a mess - no decision, no new law, no political life", he told Xinhua, referring to the political deadlock within the government that failed to address the daily problems. Although he remains a Saudi ally in Lebanon, he is no longer the only Saudi ally in that country. "Order is nice", he quipped.

Hezbollah's seat gain may complicate relations with Western countries.

The first blatant truth produced by the elections is that Hezbollah has become more powerful and has won overwhelming legitimacy.

In Hezbollah strongholds in southern Beirut, there was a steady flow of voters. They wore yellow shirts with the slogan "We protect and build" written on them.

"We can say that Lebanon now is giving itself a new image that democracy, freedom and also responsibility are possible in Arab countries", he said.

The drop came despite a reformulated electoral law created to encourage voting through proportional representation. In the past, the winning list took all the seats in an electoral district. Mohammed Merhi, 30, said he would not vote. He said his relatives vote for whoever pays them, but he was not interested in the money.

The Future Movement headed by Hezbollah opponent Sa'ad Hariri lost seats and now appears to have only 18 seats, a loss of 16.

Mr. Hariri has always been close to Saudi Arabia, although that relationship has been under strain since a freaky episode previous year when he was summoned to the Saudi capital, Riyadh, and forced to announce his resignation.

The next Cabinet, like the outgoing one, will likely be a unity government that includes Hezbollah.

Lebanese media are reporting that the Shia parties Amal and Hezbollah are expected to win 16 and 13 seats respectively.

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