March 14 bloc wins Lebanon vote

Official results confirm victory of governing coalition over Hezbollah-led alliance.

    Even before the official results were out, March 14 supporters began to celebrate [AFP]

    Even before the official results were out, the March 14 coalition, named for the date of a protest that prompted the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon, declared victory, prompting street celebrations among its supporters.

    Prospects for veto

    James Bays, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Beirut, said two areas needed to be examined by Lebanon's political parties in the wake of the result.

    "First, is the idea of a veto [over cabinet decisions] for Hezbollah and its allies if they were to join a new government of national unity," he said.

    "That [veto] has existed for the last year, since violent clashes in Beirut last year led to a unity deal between political parties in Doha [the Qatari capital].

    "If Hezbollah joins a new unity government they would like that veto retained - but March 14 have said that the people have spoken ... and that they need to govern.

    The other issue is that of who will become prime minister in any new government, Bays said.

    "Saad Hariri wants the job, but others, including the Americans, have said privately that they would prefer the previous prime minister, Foaud Siniora, to stay on," he said.

    Christian vote

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    Michel Aoun, a former military chief and leader of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), which is allied to Hezbollah, conceded on Lebanon's OTV that his party's candidates had been defeated.

    The win by the March 14 coalition had been by no means certain and it was thought the elections would be decided in Christian districts where Aoun's candidates challenged other Christian competitors allied to the March 14 camp.

    But Robert Fisk, a writer and journalist based in Lebanon, said that the Christian vote had not played as decisive a role as analysts had expected.

    "The Christian vote did not seem to be as split as we feared it might be," he told Al Jazeera.

    "Aoun, I think, lost a lot of Christian votes, but got more Muslim votes, which is interesting.

    "Aoun did have a lot of die-hard supporters at one stage, but I think his gradual flirtation with Syria, with Iran and with Hezbollah has really put a lot of his supporters off."

    Coalition expected

    While the March 14 bloc may have retained its grip on power, it now faces a battle to keep the divided country together.

    "The elections once again led to a parliament of national divisions," said the As-Safir newspaper, which is close to the Hezbollah-led opposition bloc, known as March 8.

    Michel Sleiman, Lebanon's president, expressed hope that a new national unity government would be formed, a prospect both sides have already raised.

    "Its quite clear that Michel Sleiman, the president of Lebanon, is actually acquiring more power by playing this role as mediator be between two sides," Fisk said.

    "At the end of the day there will have to be some form of coalition here. It's not going to be winner takes all and the minorities sit mute in parliament waiting for the next election in four years time."

    Before the results were announced, police and soldiers moved out in force in sensitive areas, but no major security incidents were reported.

    Regional reaction

    Newspapers in Syria, which has in the past provided logistical support to Hezbollah, aired allegations of vote-buying.

    Syria's ruling Al-Baath party newspaper reported that the March 14 coalition "has been accused of having bought votes and using bribery" and that "this could pave the way to large-scale falsification of the election".

    The independent Al-Watan daily commented: "The most important political ballot in Lebanon's history ... and politically-tainted money has had the last word."

    Ahead of the official results, newspapers had already predicted a March 14 win [EPA] 
    Although defeated in the election, Hezbollah, which the US has termed a "terrorist" organisation, remains a powerful influence and the nation's strongest military force.

    It warned its Western-backed rivals on Monday that its weapons arsenal was not a subject open to discussion.

    "The majority must commit not to question our role as a resistance party, the legitimacy of our weapons arsenal and the fact that Israel is an enemy state," Mohamed Raad, a Hezbollah member, was quoted by the AFP news agency as saying.

    Israel, which occupied southern Lebanon until 2000, was also quick to make its thoughts known to the new government, demanding it prevent attacks on Israel from its territory.

    "Israel considers the Lebanese government responsible for any military or otherwise hostile activity that emanates from its territory," a statement from Israel's foreign ministry on Monday said.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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