Western-backed Bloc Keeps Majority After Lebanese Vote

Interior Minister Ziad Baroud announced results Monday that showed the March 14 coalition — so named after massive street protests in 2005 against the Syrian-backed government — securing 68 seats in the 128-member Parliament. The United States, Saudi Arabia and Egypt backed these parties.

The opposition March 8 bloc, which was named after the date of counter-demonstrations in Lebanon and whose members include Hezbollah — considered a terrorist group by the United States — won 57 seats. Syria and Iran supported this bloc.

Three other seats went to independents.

The March 14 coalition, led by Sunni Muslim Saad Hariri, first won a majority in the Lebanese government in 2005 after the car-bombing assassination of Hariri’s father, Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

“We are on the threshold of a new stage,” Prime Minister Fuad Siniora told reporters after his coalition’s victory, the Associated Press reported. “We should try and understand the changes that are coming to our country and the region and to be prepared.”

One of the members of the March 8 coalition, Amal Movement leader and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said he accepted the results, according to Reuters: “Lebanon has defeated all bets on chaos and strife and again gained its existence and reputation as a democratic country.”

Some pollsters had predicted Hezbollah and its allies would win a slim majority, but the election came down to a small number of contested seats in majority Christian-populated areas and how they would vote, said Mohamad Bazzi, adjunct senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The Christians were more divided than in the past, with many uncomfortable with Gen. Michel Aoun of the Free Patriotic Movement’s alliance with Hezbollah — an alliance that was forged after the last parliamentary elections in 2005, Bazzi said.

Also, he explained, some undecided Christian voters appeared to have been swayed by Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir of the Maronite Catholic Church, who warned on the eve of the elections against attempts to change the nature of Lebanon and its Arab identity — a reference to Iran trying to make Lebanon an Islamic state.

A new government in Lebanon will be formed over the next few weeks, and the looming question is whether the March 14 alliance will be able to bring Hezbollah into the coalition with or without veto power, said Bazzi.

Currently, any Cabinet will fall if more than one-third of its members resign, so Hezbollah and its allies, which held 11 of 30 Cabinet posts, were able to block major legislation.

The March 14 coalition has so far said it will not allow this veto power again.

International observers, meanwhile, praised how the elections proceeded. A 100-member European Union observer mission said the vote had been conducted “in a polarized but generally peaceful environment within an improved legal framework which nevertheless needs further reform,” reported Reuters.

President Barack Obama issued a statement congratulating the Lebanese people for holding peaceful elections with “courage” and a “commitment to democracy,” quoted the AP.

“Once more, the people of Lebanon have demonstrated to the world their courage and the strength of their commitment to democracy,” his statement read.

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