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Hezbollah, Pro-Western Blocs at Odds in Lebanese Elections

BY Admin  June 5, 2009 at 3:30 PM EST

Lebanese rally for the opposition in Beirut; AFP

The elections are seen as a crucial next step in Lebanon’s transition from its 1975-1990 civil war, and could have major regional implications, particularly with Iran and Syria.

In a sign of the election’s international importance, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton both traveled to the country this year to meet with government officials. Although they said their visits were not intended to support any particular candidate or party, they drew criticism from Hezbollah for trying to influence the vote.

The majority is currently held by an anti-Syrian coalition, led by Sunni Muslim Saad Hariri. His alliance gained its parliamentary majority in 2005 after the car-bombing assassination of his father Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Many believed Syria was behind the assassination, though the country denied any involvement, and massive street protests broke out that became known as the Cedar Revolution.

The demonstrators demanded the withdrawal of Syrian troops and a government independent of Syria’s influence. In response, in April 2005, after 29 years of a Syrian military presence in Lebanon, the last of the troops withdrew.

Hariri’s coalition is named March 14 after the culmination of the Cedar Revolution. Other key members include the Future Movement, Progressive Socialist Party and Lebanese Forces.

The opposition, called the March 8 alliance after the date of counter-demonstrations to the Cedar Revolution, is comprised mostly of Hezbollah, the Amal Movement and the Free Patriotic Movement.

Several pollsters said Wednesday that Hezbollah and its Christian allies are expected to gain some ground in the 128-member parliament.

“In the end, I imagine that the opposition will win the majority by a very slim margin — two or three seats extra,” Abdo Saad, director of the Beirut Center for Research and Information, told Reuters.

Rabih Haber of Statistics Lebanon agreed that the opposition appeared headed toward a narrow victory of possibly two or three seats, he said, according to the news outlet.

Leading up to the vote, leaders of both camps met at the presidential palace and agreed to tone down their rhetoric and accept the results of the vote. They issued a joint statement that read: “Those gathered … call on Lebanese to carry out their electoral duty and head to voting booths calmly and responsibly, in line with the principles of freedom and democracy.”