The upcoming parliamentary election in Lebanon – the first since 2009 – is unlikely to unsettle Hezbollah’s grip over its traditional constituencies. Yet, the polls will be a test for the "Party of God". This is mainly because this election comes at a moment of extreme regional uncertainty, and because of an ongoing reshuffling of the domestic balance of power that is putting traditional alliances under stress. A new electoral law, which replaces the traditional "winner-takes-all" system with proportional representation, coupled with the breakdown of the bipolarity between the two parliamentary blocks – the Hezbollah-led "8 March" and its rival "14 March" block – might only amplify uncertainty about the electoral outcome.
Hezbollah’s performance in the 6 May election will be under strict international scrutiny. A major ally of Teheran, the Party is under pressure as the Trump administration, Israel, and Saudi Arabia are eager to tear apart the Iranian nuclear deal and undercut Teheran's influence in Syria and Lebanon. These countries have long attempted to destabilize Hezbollah's domestic role and will likely continue to do so, especially as the "Party of God" is now stronger than ever, both militarily and politically. Ironically, the Lebanese election will take place at a moment in which the participation of Hezbollah in the Syrian conflict, alongside the Assad regime, is no longer a contentious issue in Lebanon. A great part of the Lebanese population, including Hezbollah's supporters, questioned its violent intervention in Syria in 2013. Yet, many among them have eventually embraced or at least tacitly accepted Hezbollah's justification of its presence in Syria as a "war on jihadi groups" more than a military support for the Assad regime.
Incidentally, such a shift in the general perception partly explains why the Lebanese people are finally able to head to the polls on 6 May. In fact, Hezbollah has dragged its feet on holding the election (overdue since 2014) to neutralise criticism toward its engagement in Syria. Hezbollah is not the only responsible for the blockade of the Parliament, which has illegitimately renewed its own mandate several times. However, it was precisely the Parliament's lack of credibility that allowed Hezbollah's fighters to cross the Lebanese border and join the conflict in Syria virtually undisturbed. In this context, Michel Aoun – the Christian Maronite leader of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and Hezbollah's main ally since 2006 – was also strategically able to turn the power vacuum in his favour and secure the necessary votes to be elected president in 2016.
Western and Middle Eastern rivals deprecated the election of Michel Aoun as a major victory for Hezbollah and the pro-Iran regional block. Aoun has indeed passionately defended the military role of Hezbollah as an "integral part of Lebanon's national security strategy, coordinating (and not conflicting with) the Lebanese Army to counteract external threats" [namely Israel and jihadi groups operating in Syria].
Yet, Hezbollah is now competing with the FPM in crucial districts such as Kesrouane-Jbeil, which is extremely important for Maronite Christians. Whilst the FPM candidate in Jbeil is Chamel Roukos, President Aoun’s son-in-law, Hezbollah is instead supporting Jean Louis Qardahi, a relative of the former President Émile Lahoud. Amidst the electoral competition, local strategic divergences are not putting into question the 12-year old alliance between Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Hezbollah, and Michel Aoun per se. Yet, what is perilous is the discourse adopted by key FPM leaders – especially Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil – during the campaign, in order to appeal to conservative Christians. Bassil’s recently used softer tones towards Israel, which are however incompatible with Hezbollah's views of the ‘southern enemy’.
At the same time, the alliance with the FPM is essential for Hezbollah to justify its existence as an armed group beyond the Shia constituency. Incidentally, this alliance consolidated during Harb Tammuz – the 2006 war with Israel – when Michel Aoun supported Hezbollah’s resistance in the south, thus polemically asserting that not all Lebanese Christians are in favour of Israeli presence, so side-tracking from other Christian parties (especially the Phalanges) who instead facilitated Israeli occupation of Lebanon from 1982 to 2000. The alliance with the FPM is also crucial for Hezbollah to construct and reproduce a moral justification for its engagement in Syria. On 23 April, Hassan Nasrallah directly addressed Jbeil's Christian electorate, evoking the "efforts" the Party is doing in Syria "to protect Lebanon’s confessional plurality". It is however evident that the FPM is hedging its bets, as worries of a potential war between Israel and Iran have been increasing amidst the electoral campaign.
On top of everything, the new electoral law has encouraged independent Shia candidates to run against the duo Hezbollah-Amal in key southern districts, such as Nabatiyah, Bint Jbeil and Marjayoun-Hasbaya. One of them, Ali al-Amine, was attacked and hospitalized a few days before the election, whilst hanging electoral banners for his campaign. This episode not only sheds light on how shameful intimidation tactics are dominating this electoral campaign, but it also unveils its hysterical undertones. Although not expected to divert substantial votes from the Party, these homines novi are anyway producing shadows of Shia disunity which unsettles Hezbollah's attempts to project an image of cohesion and strength within and without Lebanon.