Monday, June 20, 2005

Lebanese Elections
Anti-Syrian Forces Win Majority


From Reuters:


TRIPOLI, Lebanon (Reuters) - A Lebanese opposition alliance won the final phase of a parliamentary election in a landslide on Sunday, which gave it a clear mandate to steer Lebanon out of Syria's shadow.

An unofficial count for north Lebanon showed an alliance led by Saad al-Hariri sweeping all remaining 28 seats.
The ballot, staggered by region over four weekends, is the first for three decades with no Syrian military presence, after Damascus pulled its troops out in April.

"Final results show that we are ahead and show that the people have voted for change," Hariri, son of slain ex-premier Rafik al-Hariri who is backing the opposition slate, said.

"It was not possible that after the martyrdom of Rafik al-Hariri, the withdrawal of Syria that nothing would change."

The victory means the 128-seat assembly has an anti-Syrian majority for the first time since the 1975-1990 civil war.

Pro-Syrian Christian former minister Suleiman Franjieh conceded he and his candidates were heading for defeat in the mainly Sunni Muslim north, though they had done well in Christian areas.

"What we feared is happening. I think the north has been divided along sectarian lines," Franjieh told LBC television station. "We have arrived at what we used to warn against."

The anti-Syrian list, backed by Sunni Hariri, squared off against an unlikely alliance of pro-Syrians and Damascus' erstwhile foe, former general Michel Aoun, a Maronite Christian.

Aoun's victory in the Christian heartland of Mount Lebanon in last week's round stunned the disparate movement whose street protests following Hariri's assassination on February 14 forced Syria to bow to global pressure and pull out of Lebanon.

Hariri's bloc has now won 72 seats, an absolute majority, but still a far cry from the two-thirds the anti-Syrian front had predicted.

Aoun and allies have 21 seats while a pro-Syrian Shi'ite Muslim alliance between Hizbollah and Amal have 35 seats.

Sunday's win makes Hariri, 35, a leading candidate to be named prime minister. He refused to speculate whether he would take up the post.

"I voted for Hariri's list because Saad al-Hariri represents the Sunnis. His list represents moderation in Lebanon," Abdul Majid Basheer said in mainly Sunni Muslim Tripoli.

Security was tight around polling stations where pictures of the candidates were plastered on walls, billboards and hung on electricity and telephone poles. Rival candidates accused each other of vote-buying and intimidation.

The Interior Ministry said 49 percent of the 690,000 eligible voters cast their ballots. Final official results are expected on Monday.

European Union monitors observing the May 29-June 19 election are expected to issue a verdict on Monday. It was the first time international observers monitored Lebanese polls.

Unlikely alliances that characterised the election are likely to crumble once the results are out.

They are expected to realign into three main blocs -- the anti-Syrian faction, the pro-Syrian group dominated by Amal and Hizbollah, and Aoun's followers.

They will jostle for a say on divisive issues such as the fate of Syria's close ally President Emile Lahoud and international calls for Hizbollah guerrillas to disarm.

The new administration also has to address demands for political reforms and devise a plan to handle a delicate economic situation and a debt of $35 billion, or 185 percent of gross domestic product.


Sounds like Lebanon's politics are byzantine. The Maronite Christian bloc would was pro-Syria. Syria's government is a Baathist dictatorship, similar to, but not as extreme as that of Saddam's Iraq.

Why Christians would support such a government is a mystery to me.

It seems that every positive step towards Democracy in the Middle East has been a tentative and small one. It will be years before we are able to tell if this is really going to work. But, I don't think America has ever lost when it is bet on Freedom.

We'll see.