Sunday, June 7, 2009

Prediction: Hezbollah bloc did not win the Lebanese election

The feared victory of pro- Hezbollah and pro Syrian forces in the Lebanese elections evidently did not happen, according to this Reuters story but it is probably too early to be certain. A loss will probably produce another unity government and national paralysis, as the "March 14" forces that oppose Syria and Hezbollah are unable to get a large majority and probably Hezbollah would use its arms to overthrow a government that excluded them. Unfortunately, March 14 Members of Parliament tend to have a short life expectancy, meeting accidents such as having their automobiles bombed. That reduces the majority over time.
An anti-Syrian coalition defeated Hezbollah and its main Christian ally Michel Aoun in Lebanon's parliamentary election on Sunday, sources on both sides said.
If confirmed, the result would be seen as a blow to Syria and Iran, which support Hezbollah, and a boost to the United States, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, which back Hariri's alliance.
"We have lost the election," said a senior politician close to the bloc that includes Shi'ite groups Hezbollah and Amal, as well as Aoun. "We accept the result as the will of the people."
Christian politician Samir Geagea said he believed the anti-Syrian "March 14" coalition, to which his Lebanese Forces party belongs, had won, perhaps only by a narrow margin.
"In my opinion, yes, March 14 ... will return as the majority," Geagea told LBC television.
A source in the campaign of Saad al-Hariri, the coalition's Sunni Muslim leader, predicted a clear victory, saying the bloc would win at least 70 seats in the 128-member assembly.
No official results have been announced.
Perhaps 100 of the 128 seats were virtually decided in advance, thanks to sectarian voting patterns and political deals, with Sunni and Shi'ite communities on opposing sides.
The real electoral battle centred on Christian areas, where Aoun was up against former President Amin Gemayel's Phalange Party, the Lebanese Forces of Samir Geagea and independents.
Lebanon's rival camps are at odds over Hezbollah's guerrilla force, which outguns the Lebanese army, and ties with Syria, which dominated Lebanon for three decades until 2005.
The likeliest outcome of the poll is another "national unity" government, analysts say.
"A national unity government is necessary, conditional on March 14 reaching a victory," anti-Syrian Druze leader Walid Jumblatt said before the preliminary result had emerged.
Interior Minister Ziad Baroud said after polls closed at 7 p.m. that preliminary figures showed a turnout of more than 54 percent, a high figure for Lebanon, where hundreds of thousands of the 3.26 million eligible voters live abroad.
Security was tight, with 50,000 troops and police deployed across Lebanon, especially in the most contested districts.
Security sources said one person was wounded by gunfire in the northern city of Tripoli and there were brawls between rival supporters elsewhere, but no reports of serious fighting.
According to unofficial results, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, who has enjoyed Western and Arab support, won a parliamentary seat in the mainly Sunni southern city of Sidon.
Siniora, 66, has headed the cabinet since the Hariri-led coalition won the 2005 parliamentary election. He led the government through 18 months of political conflict with Hezbollah and its allies, but is not expected to keep his post.
Voting was relatively trouble-free across Lebanon, although there were many reports of vote-buying before the poll, with some Lebanese expatriates being offered free air tickets home.
The United States, which lists Hezbollah as a terrorist group, has linked future aid to Lebanon to the shape and policies of the next government. Hezbollah, which says it must keep its arms to deter Israel, is part of the outgoing cabinet.
The anti-Syrian majority coalition has enjoyed firm backing from many Western countries, as well as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, since the 2005 assassination of Hariri's father Rafik al-Hariri.
The coalition took power in an election following Hariri's killing, but struggled to govern in the face of a sometimes violent conflict with Hezbollah and its allies.
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who heads a team of international observers, urged Lebanese parties and their foreign backers to accept the result of the vote.
"I don't have any concerns over the conduct of the elections. I have concerns over the acceptance of the results by all the major parties," he said at a Beirut polling station.
Tensions in Lebanon have mostly been kept in check by leaders whose rivalries pushed the country to the brink of civil war last year. A thaw in ties between Saudi Arabia and Syria has also helped maintain stability in Lebanon in recent months.

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