BEIRUT (REUTERS) - The Iran-backed Shi'ite group Hizbollah and its political allies looked set to win more than half the seats in Lebanon's first parliamentary election in nine years, according to preliminary results cited by politicians and Lebanese media.
The result, if confirmed by the final count, would boost Hizbollah politically, with parties and individuals aligned with the heavily-armed group securing a simple majority in Parliament in Sunday's (May 6) election.
Hizbollah is classified as a terrorist group by the United States and an enemy of neighbouring Israel which has fought numerous wars with the group since it was founded in 1982.
The unofficial results also indicated that Western-backed Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri would emerge as the Sunni leader with the biggest bloc in the 128-seat Parliament, making him the frontrunner to form the next government, though he lost seats.
Lebanon's prime minister must be a Sunni according to the country's sectarian power-sharing system.
The election was held under a complex new law that redrew constituency boundaries and changed the electoral system from winner-takes-all to a proportional one.
The staunchly anti-Hizbollah Lebanese Forces, a Christian party, appears to have emerged as a big winner, nearly doubling its MPs to 15 from eight, according to the unofficial indications.
Hizbollah and groups and individuals affiliated to it secured at least 67 seats, according to a Reuters calculation based on preliminary results for nearly all the seats that were obtained from politicians and campaigns and reported in Lebanese media.
Hizbollah's allies include the Shi'ite Amal Movement led by Nabih Berri, the Christian Free Patriotic Movement established by President Michel Aoun and other groups and individuals that view its weapons as an asset to Lebanon.
Hizbollah-backed Sunnis did well in the cities of Beirut, Tripoli and Sidon, strongholds of Hariri's Future Movement, the unofficial results showed.
But Hizbollah lost ground in one of its strongholds, the Baalbek-Hermel constituency, where it lost two of 10 seats, one of them to Lebanese Forces.
Hizbollah-backed winners include Jamil al-Sayyed, a retired general and former Lebanese intelligence chief who is a close friend of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, according to the unofficial results.