Iranian-funded, Syrian-favored, fanatically-inspired Hezbollah fell short in its bid to become Lebanon's governing party in today's parliamentary elections. Its alliance of convenience with the Christian Free Patriotic Movement of Michel Aoun backfired, as Aoun's claim that an alliance with Hezbollah was Lebanon's best hope at unity proved unconvincing to his Christian backers. Hezbollah maintained its parliamentary representation, but it needed Aoun to expand his in order to form a ruling coalition. Aoun failed, thus denying Hezbollah's so-called March 8 alliance the plurality it needed.
It's an astounding turn-around in what had been a close contest, but one where Hezbollah was expected to prevail. It's a humiliating loss for Iran and Syria, and perhaps a preview of what's to come in Iran's election next Friday: announcing the death of reformers may be premature (although in fairness to the notion of reform, Lebanon's March 14 coalition, which will keep control of Parliament, has done a rather bad job of reform since 2005).
Every election is typically, tiresomely termed the most important in one's lifetime. For Lebanon, today's parliamentary election may well have been. It certainly was the country's most contested, freest, most expensive, and most corrupt in the republic's 75-year history. More than 250 candidates competed. About 55 percent of Lebanon's 3.26 million registered voters cast ballots.
It was also Lebanon's leakiest election: Saudis, Americans and Europeans were pulling for the so-called March 14 Coalition, the incumbent alliance of Sunnis and Christians who define themselves in part by rejecting Syria's perennial influence in Lebanon (the alliance's name is derived from the date when it coalesced into a force that eventually threw Syria out of the country after a 29-year occupation). Iran and Syria poured their money and propaganda behind the Hezbollah-Aoun alliance. Both sides flew expatriates into Lebanon, free, to win their vote. Many voters openly and unapologetically sold their vote to the highest bidder, like scalpers outside a stadium, reportedly for as much as $2,000.
By evening, March 14 had won at least 70 seats in the 128-seat parliament, with still several closely contested seats to be determined. It's possible that March 14 broadened its hold on power.
"In brief victory remarks," the Washington Post reported, "coalition leader Saad Hariri said the country's competing factions must 'give a hand to each other and have the will to go back to work.' Hariri is the son of the former prime minister, Rafiq al-Hariri, a Sunni whose 2005 assassination helped sweep the March 14 group to power."
A caveat to keep in mind: when Lebanon resolved its 17-month electoral crisis a year ago by electing a new president, the resolution hinged on giving whoever was in the opposition veto power over all major government decision. That meant giving Hezbollah the veto.
That remains true today. March 14 may have beaten back a Hezbollah challenge, and proved that it could win without Hezbollah (something Hezbollah had claimed was impossible, especially since March 14 had won, originally, with Hezbollah's support in 2005). But this is no defeat for the Shiite "Party of God." Merely a resumption of an old role it plays all too well.
For 29 years, little happened in Lebanon without Syria's approval. Since Syria's expulsion, little has happened without Hezbollah's approval. It's still the most potent military force in Lebanon next to the Lebanese army. Depending on which direction Hezbollah chooses to take, the threat of civil war may loom larger, not smaller, after the vote. But it's also action time for March 14, or else.
Still, the clearest victor in Lebanon is democracy.
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