June 8, 2009
Pro-Western bloc defeats Hezbollah in crucial poll
Nicholas Blanford in Beirut
A Western-backed coalition appeared to have retained its parliamentary majority in the face of a strong challenge by the Hezbollah-led opposition, according to preliminary results early this morning in Lebanon’s closely fought election.
Fireworks exploded in the night sky above Beirut as motorcades of jubilant supporters of the US-backed March 14 bloc celebrated.
Early results from yesterday’s election indicated that the March 14 candidates had fared well in the key Christian constituencies north of Beirut, which were widely seen as the decisive battleground in what has been the closest-fought elec-tion in more than three decades.
A source close to the opposition conceded defeat. “We’ve lost the election,” the source told Reuters. “We accept the result as the will of the people.”
Lebanese television predicted that March 14 had won 70 seats in the 128-seat parliament, giving it a narrow majority over the opposition.
If the victory is confirmed there are likely to be protracted negotiations over the composition of the next government. An agreement in May 2008, which ended the worst bout of internal factional violence since the 1975-1990 civil war, granted the opposition a one-third veto-wielding share of a government of national unity, with the March 14 bloc comprising the remaining two-thirds.
The March 14 leadership was critical of the arrangement, arguing that the veto stifled government activity. Although it said that it favoured another unity administration, it ruled out offering the veto-wielding option if it won the election.
The turnout for the election was the largest in years, with about 53 per cent of eligible voters heading to the polls.
In Bikfaya, a town in the mountainous Metn province northeast of Beirut, voters converged on the polling station from early in the morning. The streets were festooned with banners carrying the cedar tree symbol of the Phalange Party, a Christian movement led by the Gemayel family of Bikfaya, one of the most prominent Christian dynasties in Lebanon.
Greeting well-wishers outside the polling station was Nadim Gemayel, a March 14 candidate for a Beirut ward and son of Bashir Gemayel, who was assassinated in September 1982 days before being sworn in as president of Lebanon.
In Ashrafieh, a Christian neighbourhood in east Beirut, a small crowd of opposition supporters faced off against several Lebanese soldiers. “Why don’t you fight the Israelis in the south instead of us,” yelled a furious opposition supporter.
Michel Aoun, the main Christian opposition leader, alleged several irregularities in the election such as lengthy queues at polling stations.