Monday, June 8, 2009

Lebanese election Results - in Detail

Good Mews from Lebanon - for a change. It's not great news, because Hezbollah still gets to vote with AK-47s, but at least the pro-West, moderate coalition maintained, and perhaps expanded, its majority. Michel Aoun's courting of Hezbollah cost him seats. Likewise, Walid Jumblatt, once stalwart in defense of Lebanese independence, shocked his audience of party faithful by declaring, in the last days of the election, that they would have to bow to the "inevitable" and accept Hezbollah hegemony. He too lost votes. A key thing novices have to know about Lebanese politics is this: "Everyone" supposedly knows that March 8 or M8 is the pro-Syria and pro-Hezbollah alliance, while March 14, or M14 is the pro-West, anti-Syrian bloc that coelesced around Saad Hariri, son of the popular Rafiq Hariri who was assassinated either by Syria or the Hezbollah.  Tony Badran has the story. But what he is not saying is that the Lebanese election law still seems to discriminate against the Shi'a, who are probably a majority (Lebanon has not had a census in a long time) and in favor of the Christian minority, many of whom have fled abroad. Another thing to keep in mind is that Hezbollah has a way of reduing the parliamentary majority of the government - it seems to murder MPs it doesn't like. Someday murders them, at any rate.

Tony Badran
Let's run through what seems to be the final result of the election. It seems, with the preliminary results, that the March 14 coalition and its independent allies have won 71 seats, adding one seat to their current total, despite what March 8 thought would be an electoral law advantageous to them (the 1960 law adopted in the now-defunct Doha Accord). This puts to rest the myth that in 2005, M14 won because of its alliance with Hezbollah and the gerrymandering of the electoral law of 2000. M14's victory is clear. It ran unified lists and wherever M14 won, the lists won in total without any breaches.

Who are the winners and losers?

Obviously, M14 as a coalition emerges victorious. The independents add a couple to the total number but M14 still maintains a majority on its own. It's a decisive majority trashing once and for all Bashar Assad's "imaginary majority" and "transient few" snide remarks.

Hariri reemerges with the biggest bloc and thus keeps his position as head of the parliamentary majority. The Future Movement sailed through in the north, Beirut, the Western Bekaa and Zahle, and swept two seats in Sidon. The Lebanese Forces performed very strongly in Koura and Batroun, with M14 sweeping both, and eliminating Aoun's son-in-law Gebran Bassil in what is a major symbolic victory.

Walid Jumblat sacrificed from his share for the sake of the M14 alliance, and he emerges with a slightly diminished bloc as a result.

On the other side, Michel Aoun took a hit with the loss of his son-in-law, and saw his huge margin in Keserwen dwindle down drastically to about 2,000 votes, with Mansour al-Bone and his list performing ably.

Furthermore, this was done with Aoun's preferred electoral law, which he had been bragging about since the Doha Accord saying that he "forced" it on the other parties, and that it would "liberate" the Christian vote, especially in places like Ashrafiyeh, and that he would expand his bloc to over 30 MPs. Well, his list was demolished in Beirut 1 (Ashrafiyeh), where M14 swept all five seats.

Also, his allies in Zahle (Elie Skaff and the "Popular Bloc") got smashed, with M14 performing very strongly there.

Nevertheless, Aoun scored big in districts with large Hezbollah votes, namely Baabda and Jbeil. While a victory in Jbeil was expected, the sweep in Baabda is a net win. Aoun also maintained his sweep in Keserwen, despite a dramatically narrower edge. He also did well in the Metn, winning 6 (in alliance with the Armenaian Tashnag party) out of 8, with Michel Murr and Sami Gemayel getting the other two. As such, Aoun will still claim he is the strongest in the Maronite heartland. Nevertheless, the win is very obviously a lot shakier than the "tsunami" of 2005, and nothing made it clearer than his son-in-law's big loss in Batroun. Batroun, whose citizens lost an Army pilot, shot down in his helicopter by Aoun's Hezbollah's allies, threw out the Aounists completely.

In effect, the Christian vote, as always, is still split. Aoun and his allies (Frangieh, Tashnag) will still have the largest Christian bloc (the seats in Jezzine will not be counted because they were never in play for M14, and they were gifts from Hezbollah -- and, incidentally, a setback for Berri).

The Tashnag Party, which huffed and puffed (and was puffed up by Western journos) mightily before the elections, ends up with a dud, getting only two seats (keeping the seat in Metn, and gaining a seat in Beirut 2). The other Armenian seats (Zahle, Beirut 1) went to M14.

Similarly, Michel Murr didn't pull off the kind of performance many thought he would, keeping only his seat in the Metn. He fielded a candidate in Baabda (Gharios) who lost. His companion in the Metn, Sarkis Sarkis, also lost.

Similarly, the so-called centrist bloc that was touted before the elections, comes out decidedly smaller than even initially thought. The bloc was supposed to be affiliated with the President, Suleiman, with candidates close to him, or effectively putting themselves in his corner, not breaking through: Nazim Khoury in Jbeil, al-Bone and Farid Haykal Khazen in Keserwen, Edmond Gharios (and even perhaps Pierre Daccache) in Baabda, and even Murr himself. Although there are others who did make it (people like Robert Ghanem, etc. can still support the President), the bloc as initially conceived did not quite materialize.

This balance of power will now be transferred to the battle over the cabinet formation. M14 has a clear victory, and so will pick the Prime Minister. The battle, however, will be over the heresy of the "veto third" -- which has no existence in the constitution or the Taef Accord. Hariri has been consistently rejecting its continuation in the future cabinet, and he got support today from
Jumblat as well, who called it a "fallacy." M14 will agree to a national unity government, though its principled position now is that it rejects the "veto third" formula. They are making plenty of noise about giving a boost to Suleiman, and how that will materialize remains to be seen. M8 is almost certainly going to reject it and will cite the relatively weak performance of the so-called independents/centrists as support for their position. This is a potential looming crisis on the horizon, as I argued in my pre-election briefing, especially since Hezbollah and the March 8 groups have shown themselves to be anti-democratic and violent forces who wouldn't hesitate to paralyze the country and ultimately attack people in their homes to get what they want.

Let's see how this plays out.

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