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What Happened in Lebanon's Elections? By: Dr. Walid Phares
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, June 22, 2005


The last round of legislative elections ended June 19 in North Lebanon, completing a month-long process that gave the country a new assembly of 128 members. No violence marred the four rounds of voting; however, charges of corruption were raised, and many in the West, including those within the circles that supported the "Cedar Revolution," are struggling to understand the results. Any honest observer must admit Lebanon’s politics are complex. Unfortunately, the simple analysis of the elections that the media offers is not completely accurate.

The "story"

The international media has reported the same basic analysis about the elections: according to election returns and party affiliations, the "Lebanese national opposition," led by Saadeddine Hariri [1] carried 72 seats, a clear majority, to form the next Lebanese government. Hariri’s allies include the Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt [2] (14 seats), the Lebanese Forces Party of jailed leader Samir Geagea [3] (6 seats), and the Qornet Shehwan grouping (3 seats). According to this analysis, the "opposition" to the present Syrian-dominated government won the election, which therefore shifted the Lebanese to a moderate, pro-Western sphere.

This analysis is based on political reports out of Lebanon since the assassination in February of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, reports which included the million-plus people who flocked to downtown Beirut on March 14 to demand their independence from Syria. In the minds of viewers and governments around the world, those who led the protests that day are the heirs to a free, democratic Lebanon. Hence, Hariri, the son of the assassinated leader, and Jumblatt were named the leaders of the anti-Syrian movement. All other groups participating in the march were defined as followers. When Hariri’s election lists scored a majority in parliament, the perception was that the anti-Syrians had won.

The international media has also recognized that Hezbollah won 14 seats, its ally Shiite Amal won 15, and the Pro-Syrian party won another few; however, it expects that a pro-U.S. Hariri will (hopefully) contain them as a prelude to their disarmament. And while the international media notes that the exiled Christian general Michel Aoun won 21 seats, the largest Christian bloc in parliament, it portrayed him as a "divider" since he did not join Hariri’s national list. Despite 15 years of being a staunch anti-Syrian, the Hariri media machine transformed Aoun into an "ally of the Syrians."

The end of the analysis shows the Cedar Revolution beginning with mass protests at Martyr Square and emerging victorious at the Lebanese parliament at Nejme Square. Most newswires and major news networks around the world reported that Lebanese resistance, led by Hariri and Jumblat, succesfully drove the Syrian army out of Lebanon as a result of a "revolution" they engineered. Moreover, international news agencies reported that an overwhelming majority of Lebanese voted for Hariri and Jumblat in resistance to the occupier, Syria. Thus, according to the world media, the story has an ending and the 15-year-long Christian opposition to Syria, the one that fought on behalf of the tortured, imprisoned, and executed, is now marginalized to a few politicians on Hariri's list or an off shoot under General Aoun's "wandering" among the ex-pro-Syrian politicians.

In short, the official international version of Lebanon's elections credits the three month old, Johnny-come-lately opposition, while the contributions of the veteran, mother resistance, which included both Aoun and the Lebanese Forces, were ignored.

The Analysis

Another, more complete analysis of the Lebanese elections, however, paints a different picture. The Lebanese political system is a labyrinth, notorious for its complexities, and one that is often oversimplified by observers or redrawn to match accepted worldviews. It is still, in fact, unclear whether the emerging parliamentary alliance will deliver democracy and keep Syria at bay.

In Beirut, a capital of one million inhabitants of variouys religions, only 23 percent of all the communities voted. Therefore, 77 percent of the city's population which comprised the most powerful testament to democracy and freedom since the fall of the Berlin Wall, was not satisfied with the electoral cadidates: Hariri's Wahabis, Syria's Baathists, or Hizbollah's leaders. Why didn't the inhabitants of the " Cedar Revolution's" capital flock to the voting centers as they flocked to its demonstrations?

First, only 10 percent of the Christians – the main participants in the March 14 demonstration cast ballots. Why didn't the other 90 percent of Beirut's Christians participate? Did none of the candidates have anything to offer them? The two most popular candidates, Solange Gemayel and Jubran Tueni, were staunch critics of Syria and members of Wahabi's electoral list, the winner of the election. Is the answer there? Are the masses trying to send a message?

In the South and the Bekaa, Hezbollah received an overwhelming electoral victory: the party and its allies aqcuired 31 seats. Two weeks ago, Hizbollah's leader, Sheikh Nasrallah told his followers: "we must do everthing in our power to carve as large a section of this parliament [as possible]. This assembly," he said, " is our best protection" (UNSCR 1559). It is no surprise then that moderate Shiites were obstructed by the militia’s security and financial powers. Since the Cedar Revolution stopped short of a regime change in Lebanon and Hizbollah was not disarmed before the elections, it is not suprising that an Iranian-backed militia, with thousands of weapons and millions of dollars, could not grab every single seat in those districts. With less power, the national-socialists of the 1930s in Germany overwhelmed the Bundestag. Had the Shiites been offered elections with a gun-free Hizbollah, the true political realities and tendencies of those commuities might have been realized. Now, however, the only reality is a Shi'ia community threatened by Hizbollah.

In Mount Lebanon, the Christian heartland, Michel Aoun’s supporters carried almost all the seats, which indicates strong support from the staunchest anti-Syrian community in the country. When voting in their own communities and free from the interference and influence of others, the Christian masses sent a message: We want to be part of the international community, one that is against Syrian occupation and opposed to Hizbollah's militia. Aoun was their best outlet to express this desire. He received 80 percent of their votes. It took Hizbollah's thousands of militant ballots in one of Mount Lebanon's districts, Baabda, to defeat Aoun's list.

In the North, three Muslim districts were joined with four smaller Christian ones, as a way to deny ethnic majorities from emerging, or more precisely, to deny the Christians from developing majorities in their district. This gerrymandering, imposed by the Syrians in 2000, was used by the Hariri coalition in 2005.

In three of the four Christian districts, a popular majority voted for Aoun. The fourth one naturally voted for the candidates of its native Samir Geagea. But due to Lebanon’s election laws, the northern region fell into the hands of Hariri, who was backed by the Saudis, due to more than 25,000 Sunni Wahabi votes. As Maronite Patriarch Sfeir complained a few weeks ago: "Christian legislators are voted in by Muslim voters."

The New political map, however, is still as follows:

1. The Pro-Saudi Sunni leader Hariri is number one, flanked by the anti-American Druze leader Walid Jumblatt. Both control the legislature with backing from a smaller number of Christian legislators who are historically anti-Syrians but have joined the alliance to achieve interim or tactical agendas.

2. Hezbollah the pro-Syrian Amal stand second, and with them the remnants of the pro-Syrian regime. They control most of the Shiite seats and will ally themselves to any government that will protect them from the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1559, calling for their disarmament. They remain a strategic ally to Syria and oppose U.S. policies.

3. Michel Aoun, with the largest bloc of the Christian MPs, is third and has begun from a position of weakness, but perhaps he will emerge as the loudest voice. He advocates the disarmament of Hezbollah, but considers the confrontation with Syria over.

This, however, is only the entrance into the labyrinth. Who is pro-American, anti-American, anti-Hezbollah, pro-Syrian, pro-Wahabi, pro-Iranian, etc.? Now that the elections are over, Washington's real question is "Who will implement the next segments of UNSCR 1559 and who will not?" Who will dare call for disarming Hizbollah and call the threat from Syria real? We will know very soon.

ENDNOTES:

1. Son of slain former Prime minister Rafiq Hariri, a Sunni close ally of the Saudis.

2. Druze leader, son of Kamal Jumblat, left-wing ally to the Soviets.

3. Geagea, Maronite, former commander of the Christian militia was jailed in 1994 by the previous pro-Syrian government.


Dr Walid Phares is the author of the newly released book Future Jihad. He is also a senior fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington DC.


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