June 8, 2009
Stunning Victory at the Polls for Democracy in LebanonBy Rick Moran
It wasn't supposed to happen like this. While no formal polling is allowed close to the election, many analysts still gave a slight edge to the Hezb'allah backed Development and Resistance bloc to emerge with a plurality of seats in the nation's 128 member parliament, beating out the Sunni-Christian March 14th forces. In any event, neither side was expected to dominate the election.
But if elections were decided by analysts, there would be no such thing as democracy. This, the Lebanese people proved when they shocked themselves and the world by giving a stunning, convincing victory to the forces of democracy represented by the March 14th coalition.
From the Lebanese news portal Now Lebanon:
"No victor, no vanquished." That's the motto of Lebanese political society. So even though the March 14th forces outpolled Hezb'allah substantially (they may have won up to 58 seats), they will still be invited to participate in the government.
And that includes the participation of the Christian Free Patriotic Movement party who cast their lot with pro-Syrian Hezb'allah and divided the Christian community. Their leader, Michel Aoun, stands humiliated if the results hold up.
Once an anti-Syrian hero in Lebanon, a reputation earned by fighting for Lebanese independence against the Syrian occupiers, Aoun's triumphant return following the expulsion of Syrian troops in 2005 raised hopes that the Christian community could rally behind his banner.
Hariri and the Sunnis didn't trust Aoun and refused to give him what he coveted most; their endorsement of his candidacy for the presidency. He then shocked the nation when he signed a memorandum of agreement with pro-Syrian Hezb'allah and joined their coalition. This has resulted in some awkward moments over the years as Aoun has been forced to take positions inconveniently opposed to ones had taken previously.
Naharnet has the opposition's response:
Will that "positive attitude" extend to accepting the result and a reduced role in the cabinet?
For 18 months, Hezb'allah held the nation hostage by besieging the Grand Serail, Lebanon's government house. During that time, several March 14th politicians were assassinated -- probably by Syrian security -- including Pierre Gemayel whose family is extremely prominent in Lebanese politics. The question on everyone's mind is will they accept anything less than what they achieved last year at Doha, Qatar following what Prime Minister Siniora referred to as "an attempted coup?"
As always, Hezb'allah has one advantage not enjoyed by their opposition. They've got the guns and the will to use them if they feel threatened. They proved that in May of 2008 when, following a challenge to their communications network, they easily brushed aside disorganized Sunni militias and entered the Sunni enclave in West Beirut. That action triggered a crisis conference in Doha where the March 14th government gave in to most of Hezb'allah's demands and reorganized the cabinet, giving the Shias and their Christian allies a virtual veto over Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's government.
Lebanon can ill afford a repeat of that military-political exercise by Hezb'allah. Nor can it afford another Hezb'allah war with Israel, which is always a possibility now that they have been fully rearmed and resupplied by Syria and Iran after the 2006 conflict. But March 14th is stuck with integrating the opposition into the government and trying to keep them happy.
It is in Hezb'allah's long term interest to cause trouble for the March 14th majority. But there is a possibility they will go along for awhile and accept a reduced role as a result of the election. Their spiritual and military leader Hassan Nasrallah is a shrewd operator and has demonstrated a gambler's instinct when he thinks the odds are in his favor. But given the fact that the Lebanese people seem to have spoken clearly about their future, we might see Hezb'allah laying low for the time being.
The key to March 14th's success was found in the Christian members of the coalition and their victories in hotly contested districts against FPM candidates.
Now Lebanon has the details:
In race after race where there was a competitive contest (about 100 seats were safely apportioned to the various religions), March 14th surged to victory. A change in the electoral law pushed on the government by Hezb'allah at the Doha conference was thought to favor them over March 14th, but in the end, appeared to make little difference.
Now comes the hard part; forming a working government that won't provoke Hezb'allah into a ruinous confrontation. Although current Prime Minister Fouad Siniora won his race going away, he is not expected back. It would be helpful if whoever emerges from the coming scrum for Prime Minister would be acceptable to Hezb'allah but it is not vital. For the moment, March 14th has the votes. That should cinch the proposition in Parliament.
Sa'ad Hariri, son of the slain ex-Prime Minister, has now engineered two election victories for his coalition. Considering the fact that March 14th appeared dead in the water following their surrender at Doha, he has pulled off a political coup by outmaneuvering Michel Aoun in almost all the competitive districts while infusing his supporters with hope for an independent Lebanon with a strong central government. Not a bad trick if you can pull it off. And Hariri did.
Rick Moran is associate editor of American Thinker.