Monday, June 08, 2009

Lebanon Elections-- A Proxy For The U.S. v Iran Cold War


Ziad Baroud, the Obama of Lebanon

Even though Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has his own tough electoral battle to face this Friday-- against two more reform minded candidates, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, a former prime minister, and Mehdi Karoubi, a moderate cleric (as well as a far right sociopath, Mohzen Rezai, "the Persian Dick Cheney"-- Iranian interference in yesterday's Lebanese elections was almost as palpable as America's interference. The Iranians were pushing their Shi'a co-religionists of Hezbollah, a populist-- albeit a reactionary one-- party, while the U.S. backed a coalition of securlar, mostly Sunni, pro-Western parties run by a gaggle of elite families (the March 14 coalition). In between are the Maronite Christians who aren't as uniformly committed to the pro-western bloc as you might think.
“It’s your choice between peace and war,” said Sami Gemayel, a Christian candidate who opposes Hezbollah, during a recent television appearance. “The choice is between Gaza and a developed, civilized Lebanese state.”

But the political realities of this small, chronically divided Mediterranean country are far less drastic, and far more complex. Hezbollah, which the United States considers a terrorist group, is already part of Parliament and the cabinet. It is almost certain to win the same number of Parliament seats-- 11 out of 128-- as it now holds. If Hezbollah and its allies win a majority for the first time-- and the race is likely to be very close-- there will be concern in Washington and Tel Aviv. But the Lebanese government will not fall into the hands of armed Islamists.

Instead, the election turns on the votes of Lebanon’s Christians, who are divided between the two main political camps. The real beneficiary of an opposition victory would not be Hezbollah but its main electoral partner, the Free Patriotic Movement, led by the retired Christian general Michel Aoun. His parliamentary bloc is already more than twice as large as Hezbollah’s, and a clear electoral victory could propel him into a dominant position.

To his critics, Mr. Aoun is a political opportunist and traitor whose alliance with Hezbollah, reached in 2006, threatens to draw Lebanon into the sphere of Syria and Iran, and to bring more ruinous wars with Israel. Historically, Lebanon’s Christians have identified more with the West.

To his supporters, Mr. Aoun is a reformer who has the will to change Lebanon’s entrenched culture of corruption, patronage and sectarian division. They say allying with Hezbollah is the only way to ultimately disarm it, and to move past the bitter history of Christian-Muslim tensions that has nurtured so much deadly conflict here. The Shiites are Lebanon’s largest sectarian group, and a policy of confrontation with Hezbollah-- the most popular Shiite party-- is a recipe for renewed civil war, the Aounists say.

As the vote counts started trickling in last night, we learned quickly that the anti-Syrian/pro-Saudi Prime Minister Fouad Siniora won a seat reserved for Sunnis in Sidon. Early projections showed the March 14 coalition between Sunnis, Druze and some Christian parties winning between 67 and 70 out of the 128 seats in Parliament, with very heavy turnout, "a significant and unexpected defeat for Hezbollah and its allies, Iran and Syria. Most polls had showed a tight race, but one in which the Hezbollah-led group would win." This morning it is confirmed that the March 14 bloc won.
Results declared by Interior Minister Ziad Baroud showed Saad al-Hariri's pro-Western bloc had won 71 of parliament's 128 seats, against 57 for an opposition alliance that groups Shi'ite factions Hezbollah and Amal with Christian leader Michel Aoun.

The likeliest outcome of the poll is another "national unity" government, analysts say, though its formation might not go smoothly if the Hezbollah camp again insists on veto power.

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