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Lebanon's Election Brings Some New Faces
By David Enders

Among those newly elected was Paula Yacoubian, a 42-year-old news presenter and journalist, who ran on a civil society ticket. ( Hussein Malla/AP)
Lebanon will see some new faces in parliament, including a well-known television presenter, following this year's election, results showed on Tuesday, though many familiar politicians will be returning to the chamber.

Sunday's vote capped a longer-than expected wait for polls, the last being held in 2009.

The inaugural meeting of the incoming parliament is scheduled for May 20, though most parties held roughly the same number of seats they had before.

One disappointment for many was an only modest increase in the number of female representatives - from four to six - comprising less than five per cent of the 128-member chamber. There was a record number of female candidates, but most ran as independents rather than part of established parties and could not summon enough support for a major breakthrough.

Among those newly elected was Paula Yacoubian, a 42-year-old news presenter and journalist, who ran on a civil society ticket.

Other female candidates were disappointed.

"I was hoping to have more women in parliament," said Jessica Azar, who ran as part of the Lebanese Forces, a party run by formerly-imprisoned Christian militia leader Samir Geagea.

The LF provided the biggest surprise, nearly doubling its seats from eight to 15.

Mr Geagea is an outspoken critic of Syrian influence in Lebanon, as well as being in favour of disarming Hezbollah, the only Lebanese political party that still maintains an armed militia.

"He knows what people want," Ms Azar said of Mr Geagea. "The LF campaign was very straight and to the point."

The vote was not without controversy. Mr Geagea, who despite heading the party is not an MP and is instead represented by his wife in parliament, said there had been ballot boxes that were "not sealed with red wax and did not contain official signed records". Without mentioning Hezbollah by name, he called on the Lebanese Interior Ministry to intervene and investigate.

It briefly looked as though seven women might win seats but Joumana Haddad, a feminist author and journalist, declared victory based on an unofficial count before being told the next morning she had not been elected.

Supporters of Ms Haddad had protested outside the Ministry of Interior on Monday, but no official information was released on Tuesday regarding her request for a recount. Ms Haddad did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Three of the women elected were running with the Future Movement, which remained the standard bearer for Lebanon's Sunni Muslim community. Among them were Bahia Hariri, an MP since 1992, the sister of assassinated prime minister Rafik Hariri, and aunt of current premier and Future Movement leader Saad Hariri.

Ms Hariri will be joined by Roula Tabsh from Beirut and Dima Jamali of Tripoli -- the first time Lebanon's second city has been represented by a woman in parliament.

It was Future that suffered the biggest reverse in Sunday's polls -- losing a third of its seats. Future's chief rival, the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, retained 14 seats for members of their party, but combined with allied parties and some independents, could control a majority of votes in parliament.

Hezbollah's powerful position in Lebanon reflects Iran's regional ascendancy through Iraq and Syria and all the way to Beirut. It is classified as a terrorist group by the United States and an enemy of neighbouring Israel.

Israeli politicians have already expressed alarm, with education minister Naftali Bennett tweeting that Lebanon now equals Hezbollah.

In contrast, a senior Iranian official on Tuesday hailed the "victory" of Hezbollah as a success in the "fight against Israel" and the United States, the state broadcaster reported.

"The Lebanese people and their representatives, Hezbollah and the other resistance groups, scored this victory in the fight against Israel and its allies, including the United States," said Ali Akbar Velayati, foreign policy adviser to Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Hezbollah is the main partner in Iran's "axis of resistance" against Israeli and US interests in the Middle East.

"The strength of the resistance front will be considerably reinforced in the world" after this election and that in Iraq on Saturday, Mr Velayati added.

In Beirut, Mr Hariri said his Future Party had retained 21 seats in parliament, down from 33 previously. "We were betting on a better result, this is true," he said.

He later received the UAE ambassador to Lebanon, Hamad Said Al Shamsi, and the Saudi Charge d'Affaires in Beirut, Walid Al Bukhari.

"We wanted to be the first to congratulate Prime Minister Hariri on his victory in the parliamentary elections, and we also stressed the depth of our relations with Lebanon," Mr Al Bukhari said after the meeting, according to a statement from Mr Hariri's office.


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