Lebanese election update

Since I put my article on the Lebanese elections to bed last night and submitted it to AT, there have been a few interesting developments.

Official results aren't due for another few hours but the tally of most outlets gives March 14th 71 deputies in the new parliament with the Hezb'allah bloc winning only 57. Several opposition deputies - including the Minister of Transportation - lost their seats.

Hezb'allah and the other major Shia party, Amal, swept the south as expected. The canny old Druze Warlord Walid Jumblatt and his allies also won big. But it was the unexpected solidarity of Christians, uniting behind the Sunnis and rejecting Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun who had given in to his ambition to be president and sided with Hezb'allah, that spelled the difference.

But there are warning markers on the horizon. Hezb'allah, while acknowledging defeat, says it weapons are not open to discussion, as Naharnet reports:

Hizbullah MP Mohammed Raad warned the March 14 coalition on Monday that the group's weapons were not a subject open to discussion. "The majority must commit not to question our role as a resistance party, the legitimacy of our weapons arsenal and the fact that Israel is an enemy state," Raad told Agence France Presse.

He warned that the outcome of Sunday's vote signaled further political turbulence.

"The results indicate that the crisis will continue, unless the majority changes its attitude," said Raad, an MP who kept his seat in the new parliament.

So much for the loyal opposition.

As for who might head up a new government, former caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, a self made billionaire telecom tycoon who ruled for 30 days back in 2005 when the Syrian backed government resigned after Assad's thugs were kicked out, is mentioned prominently if only because his friendly relations with Syria would probably make him acceptable to Hezb'allah.

The other major candidate - Future Party chief Sa'ad Hariri -  would probably be the choice of the rank and file in the Sunni bloc but he is universally despised by the opposition so his chances are slim. Other candidates may emerge as the process begins.

Mikati is quoted by al-Jazeera (via Now Lebanon ):

"It is hard to predict the formation of the next cabinet," ex-Premier Najib Mikati said, adding that it has to be united "to bring prosperity back to Lebanon."

Mikati told al-Jazeera TV on Monday that the winning party in the 2009 parliamentary elections should act "with modesty," while the opposition should be more open to democracy.

He stressed that there is no room for the obstructing-third vote in the constitution and that granting the opposition veto power  in the cabinet was only a way to reach a temporary agreement in Lebanon after the long-standing political turmoil between the March 14 alliance and the March 8 coalition.

The former prime minister urged parties not to allow conflict to follow the polling, since President Michel Sleiman will be continuing the national dialogue.

Easier said than done, I'm afraid. Hezb'allah spiritual and military commander Hassan Nasrallah must now deal with the fact that his "resistance" is not very popular outside of the Shia community. Not that it matters. They've got the guns and that is the true measure of power in Lebanon today.

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