On 7 June Saad Hariri, the leader of Lebanon's “March 14 coalition” claimed victory hours after the polls closed in Sunday's crucial election. Official results of the election – with 128 seats in parliament at stake – were announced on Monday. The pro-Western March 14 coalition had won 71 seats and the Hezbollah dominated “March 8 alliance” won 57 seats. Independent candidates did not win any seats. This result almost replicates the situation that existed in the outgoing parliament, in which the pro-Western bloc had 70 seats and an alliance of Hezbollah and other Shiite and Christian factions had 58. Turnout, 52.3%, was high considering last election in 2005 saw a turnout of 45.8%. About 50.000 troops were on the streets, but the run-up to the balloting had been free of violence.
“What happened today proved again that Lebanon is doing well” said Hariri in a televised victory speech. “The Lebanese proved again that they are holding on to their freedom and the democratic system, so congratulations to Lebanon, congratulations to freedom and to every voter who participated in this election. In this election, there is no winner or loser, democracy won today and the biggest winner is Lebanon.” He also extended his hand to the losing side: “[we have] to work together and seriously for the sake of Lebanon.” He urged supporters to celebrate without provoking opponents. Despite the conciliatory tone, some analysts believe Lebanon is at risk of sliding again into a political crisis over formation of the next government similar to the one that buffeted the country for most of the last four years. Others expect the current government consisting of pro-Western and Hezbollah members to continue. Hezbollah admitted it had lost the election, a senior opposition source said: “We accept the result as the will of the people.” However, a prominent member of Hezbollah, Mohammed Raad, warned the pro-Western alliance not to damage Hezbollah’s position: “The role of Hezbollah as a resistance party, Israel being the enemy and the legitimacy of Hezbollah’s weapon arsenal are issues not open for discussion.”
The election was crucial in determining whether the Arab nation, scarred by war and political instability, picked the coalition led by Hariri or an alliance backed by the militant group Hezbollah. These two groups have been fighting over power the last years, essentially the dispute has been concerning Hezbollah refusing to dismantle its military branch. The election was also an early test of President Barack Obama's efforts to forge Middle East peace. A win by Hezbollah would have boosted the influence of its backers Iran and Syria and risked pushing one of the region's most volatile nations into international isolation and possibly into deeper conflict with Israel. Former U.S. President and Nobel Peace Prize Winner Jimmy Carter said on Sunday that the United States should work with whichever coalition wins – even though it considers Hezbollah to be a terrorist organization. Carter was in Beirut as part of more than 200 international observers monitoring the election. Two senior Obama administration officials – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden – have visited Lebanon in recent months, signaling concerns over a possible Hezbollah victory. Hezbollah grew in popularity after its militant wing claimed victory over Israel after a 34-day military conflict in 2006. Since then, it has been more widely perceived by its supporters to be the “defenders” of Lebanon.
Sources: yalibnan.com, ap.org, dailystar.com.lb, cnn.com, volkskrant.nl