Days before the date of announcing the election results in Lebanon, the political scene seems to be dominated by differences between confused political sects, and the ones that have already made their political choices.
The majority of Sunnis have given their leadership to the Future Movement; a parliament member, Saad Hariri, has managed in a record time to succeed his father, and become the leader of Sunnis and the Future Movement in Lebanon; and another member, Walid Jumblatt, solidified his position as the leader of the Druze sect. Statistics have also revealed that both Hariri and Jumblatt represent nearly eighty percent of their sects.
Parallel to this, other sects, especially Shiites and Maronites, seem to be perplexed. Their loyalties seem to be wavering between the two Shiite Lebanese parties; Hezbollah and Amal. In addition, the Maronites seem to be divided between several political forces: The Lebanese forces led by General Aoun, The Lebanese Kataeb Party, and all the other Christian parties, which include the liberals, the national bloc, and the independent Christians, who were united under the Coalition of Cornet Shahwan.
But, despite the Shiite dualism representing the majority of Shiites, this did not prevent other Shiite forces from opposing the two parties' stand on elections in southern Lebanon. These opposing parties were led by the Lebanese National Party (headed by Ahmed Al-Assad), the son of the late President of Lebanese Parliament, Sabri Hamadeh, and some leftist independents.
And, while it is unlikely that the opposing Shiite forces will be able to achieve any success, the Christian forces will certainly fight over electoral seats. Such fighting will be the main characteristic of the Lebanese political life in the future.
The next parliamentary elections: Aoun's last resort
Not only Christian Lebanon, but also Taef comes under Aoun's crossfire
Statistics indicate that Gen.Michael Aoun is no longer capable of causing a new electoral Tsunami, after leaders of the Cedar Revolution proved their ability to surmount their differences and form a coherent bloc to run into elections under the slogan of statehood and commitment to the Arab Peace Initiative.
On 8 March, Aoun emerged to the Lebanese wearing a triumphant look after Hezbollah had given carte blanche to its armed men to destroy Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, and other surrounding areas where the Sunnis live. While Hezbollah felt ashamed due to the enormity of their acts, Aoun announced that he made a victory over the Sunnis and Druze. He threatened the leaders of the 14 March Forces all together.
In Doha, Aoun sought without consulting his adversaries in the opposing front or 8 March forces to exclude the name of General Michel Suleiman as a consensual president of Lebanon. When his endeavors failed, he requested that Suleiman head an interim government for two years during which parliamentary elections would be held to form a new parliament. Through this parliament, a president would be elected to lead Lebanon for six years. As the Cedars Revolution insisted that a new president should be elected because the state was in bad need of a constitution, Hezbollah tried to convince Aoun to accept Doha agreement. Aoun unwillingly accepted it and started to prepare himself for a confrontation with President Michel Suleiman.
When Aoun returned to Beirut from Doha, he declared that he made a victory when the small constituencies approved the current elections or what is known as Law 1960. He believed in his ability to exploit the instincts of the Christians again and launch an attack on the Sunnis, KSA and the Future Movement instead of attacking the Shiites. Of course, his plans included the Druze and their leader, Walid Jumblat as well. In this way, Aoun thought, he would regain the so-called electoral "Aoun Tsunami" and join the coming parliament with a considerable bloc that would allow him along with his allies to contest the election of Michel Suleiman and call for a new president to be elected.
However, Aoun failed to create a new electoral "Tsunami" because the leaders of the Cedar Revolution managed to overcome their electoral disagreements and announced their solidarity and unity in their participation in the elections, looking forward to a better state and announcing their commitment to the Arab moderateness and the Arab Peace Initiative.
All this infuriated Aoun especially after the leaders of the Cedar Revolution put up many independent Christians for the next elections and the new term "centrist parliament bloc" was coined in the "Lebanese political dictionary". This bloc announced its support for the President of Lebanon who in turn refuted the arguments that Aoun made to justify his objection to the candidates of the Cedar Revolution. Although Aoun was quite sure that objecting to the independents was tantamount to objecting to President Suleiman, he decided to put up the current parliamentary representative Walid Khouri from Ashmeet, the hometown of President Suliman, for the elections versus Nathem Al-Khouri, Suliman's advisor. He launched his electoral campaign under the slogan:"Stable Tripartite Republic". This sent a clear message that Aoun and his allies had intentions to overthrow the current regime and establish the principle of "Tripartite authority" in Lebanon instead of a dual authority.
Will Aoun succeed in his recent endeavors?
There are clear indications that the current battle would be the final one for General Aoun. If he failed to remove President Michel Suleiman through the next elections, he would never enter the Baabda Palace, especially when we know that Suleiman still has five years in his current office as president. When his term of office expires, Aoun will be 83 years old!
Kamal Resha - A Lebanese Journalist
Elections in South Lebanon: a referendum on a battle ground
Armed protection and a bipartisan Shiite representation: cards up Hezbollah's sleeves
Referendum in Southern Lebanon has become as sure as eggs. The question now is: Will a budding Shiite opposition win enough votes to split the Southern solid front?
In one of his most challenging electoral speeches, Mr. Hassan Nasrallah reminded his audience again of the battle of the 7 of May, and announced that it was a glorious day in the history of Lebanon. He said that the resistance successfully defended itself last year by invading the Lebanese capital, Beirut, and forcing (what he considers) its local enemies to sign (as he put it) a humiliating agreement for them in Doha. According to that agreement the minority opposition won the "crippling Third" of votes, which makes an elected government unable to take any decisions regarding the most trivial issues, whether in administration or in politics.
Meanwhile, parliamentary elections are scheduled to be held in South Lebanon on the 7 of June 2009, through a "referendum". This means that the South is considered to have already made its choice to stand by the Shiite camp of 8 March (Amal and Hezbollah), which is in alliance with the rejectionist camp (Syria and Iran). Thus, Hezbollah will try to ensure the intensity of voter turnout for the purpose of supporting and reaffirming the pledge.
Therefore, the electoral apparatus of Hezbollah has started its cooperation with that of Amal, which is supported by House Speaker Nabih Berri, in order to mobilize the largest number of voters for this referendum, under the slogan of "Yes to the resistance". The percentage of participation is expected to reach 70%, after a turnout of no more than 46% in the previous years, as people were reluctant to participate due to the absence of real competition, and migration to other countries.
The Phenomenonal Ahmed Al-Asaad
The march staged by Electoral candidate, Ahmed Al-Asaad, son of the former Parliament Speaker Kamel Al-Asaad, who traces his descent to the Waelian family which ruled the Amel Mount in southern Lebanon hundreds of years, came as a shock to Hezbollah and its supporters. Asaad demonstrated against Hizbollah together with hundreds of his followers in his village which is adjacent to the barbed wire strip along the Israeli-Lebanese border. He openly denounced the party as a custodian of the Israeli-Iranian interests, and defended the authority of the state as the ultimate frame of reference for war and peace decisions. On their part, Hezbollah champions attacked the procession of the Shiite candidate who dared to defame the "sacred resistance". Nevertheless, he managed to flee to the neighbouring Edissa village where he gave a fiery speech in condemnation of those who attacked his supporters. He also discredited a democracy which assaults rivals and bars them from exercising their lawful rights, including the right of assembly and self-expression.
Sources close to Hezbollah do not seem comfortable with the new emerging phenomenon of Ahmed Al-Asaad. The son of the wealthy family does not deny that he is supported by the Arab moderate countries, and that he is close to the 14 March movement, the traditional enemy of Hezbollah.
Hezbollah and its supporters are very concerned about the apparently serious spreading of this phenomenon, because Asaad proposes a political project similar to that of the southern Lebanese who are not satisfied with the "sacred duty" of continuing resistance forever, given past experiences of seasonal destruction resulting from their fulfillment of such a duty. Thousands of people were killed and wounded and hundreds of thousands of others were displaced during those periods of mass-destruction. According to Assad, resistance was a necessary evil during the days of Israeli occupation, but after 2000, or in other words after the liberation of the South and the drawing of the blue border line, resistance persisted only to support and serve the rejectionist axis (Iran and Syria) in their influence battle and probably their existence battle with the West and the United States in particular.
It seems that the events of the war of July 2006 have made many people in the Shiite community believe in the logic of Ahmed Al-Asaad, because despite Hezbollah's bold confrontation with the Israeli military machine at that time, the destructive Israeli air raids carried the impact of destruction deep inside the cities, southern villages, and the southern Shiite suburb in Beirut. The raids caused huge losses in lives and property that exceeded all expectations. It made the most enthusiastic supporters of Hezbollah wish that such hell as had befallen them may never return again, though Hezbollah's immediate compensation of the population drew admiration and benefited the affected residents. It also had a positive impact on boosting the confidence in the party's capabilities and its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, and brought back popularity to the party.
The Shiite elite in the field:
We also see the emergence of Dr. Muhammad Ali Maklad who announced his candidacy in Nabatiyah district under the name of "Democratic Left" and in alliance with the trend of "attachment to Lebanon", headed by Ahmad Al-Asaad.
The group also included Professor Majed Fayyad, a lawyer who has been active in the field of public affairs for some time and calls for pluralism and preventing the monopolization of the southern political decision.
Dr. Muhammad Ali Meklad also wrote an article on 28/7/2007 when Hezbollah ordered its supporters to take to the streets to overthrow the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. A part of the article reads: "It's really a shame to see a stone uprising targeting buildings, shop fronts, car windows and street asphalt and almost everything. It is shameful to make bandits of the resistance people and to turn a group that had carried out brave confrontations with the Israeli enemy into an army tied to the invasion of the neighbors."
Southern candidates, who do not aspire to win as they say, hope to speak up their rejection of the manipulation of the South and using election slogans that exploit the resistance people and their weapons as an electioneering technique. The Shiite duo (Hezbollah and Amal) will take part in parliamentary elections next month with extreme confidence and great pride in the victories the resistance had achieved in July 2006.
They also managed to play down the conspiracy suspicion raised against that resistance on May 7, 2008. Furthermore, they boast their link with the rejectionist Syrian-Iranian axis.
Meanwhile, enthusiasm overwhelms supporters of March 8 and March 14 trends to the extent that the scene appears as if the elections would run between two camps heading for war, a war over existence, a ruthless one, indeed.
The foreseen referendum in the South will take place, without a shade of doubt.
Will the young Shiite opposition win votes that may split the solid Southern front?
The answer will be on June 7, 2009.
Wesam Al-Amin - Lebanese journalist
The concerns of Lebanese sects about the Lebanese elections
The role of the majority, the minority and the external balances in shaping the future of Lebanon
The overall electoral scene in Lebanon is almost complete, after the announcement of regulations in most constituencies which were relatively late in announcing their results. But if the election results were earlier determined in important constituencies (the ones that include a large number of voters), due to their sectarian intensity, the real competition over the remaining constituencies will determine the final outcome of this fierce battle. This outcome will determine who will have the parliamentary majority in the new parliament, which will start its activities on the seventh of next June.
The past few years revealed, perhaps for the first time in the history of elections in Lebanon, the importance of the majority and minority in the parliament. We've said for the first time, because this issue wasn't important over the past three decades, when Lebanon was directly managed by the Syrian administration. At that time, Lebanon had very few external options, the internal situation was stable. Therefore, the majority and the minority did not play any active role in influencing changes or making them. But the break-up of the so-called "quadripartite alliance", which included the Shiite (Amal and Hezbollah), the Sunnis (Future Movement) and the Druze (the Progressive Socialist Party) after the elections of 2005, has turned everything upside down, especially since such break-up happened under the new regional equation, which emerged after the assassination of the former prime minister of Lebanon, Rafiq Hariri, the departure of Syrian forces, and the occupation of Iraq. This has led to the formation of a new alliance between the Sunnis (Future Movement), the Druze (the Progressive Socialist Party), and the Maronites (Lebanese Forces). In other words, the Shiite were out, which made them turn into an opposition and forced them to make an alliance with the Free Patriotic Movement (a Maronite party led by Michel Aoun). The big difference in political choices between the Lebanese sects and political powers has led to their collision. Bets differed on the impact of such a collision on regional conditions. While the majority believed the accusations made against Syria of assassinating President Hariri and called for an international trial of Syria, the opposing forces denied these accusations and stood against an international trial of Syria. The majority considered Hizbollah as a main problem, unlike the minority, who considered it as an essential shield in defending Lebanon. The European countries and the United States stood with the majority, as they considered them a democratically elected party. They supported their political views. Thus, Lebanon witnessed one of the most difficult and hard times in its history, which almost threw it back in the furnace of the civil war that had erupted in 1975. Therefore, parliamentary majority seems "important" for some and "vital" for others, due to its impact at the domestic level and at the level of Lebanon's regional political choices.
The concerns of the Lebanese Sects about the changes that the elections would produce may vary from one sect to another. Sunnis fear that in case of the rise of the Shiites at the national and regional level, political "trinity", the unannounced Shiite agenda, would allow the amendment of the "Taif Accord", and deprive the Sunnis of many privileges. The Shiite not only fear from disarmament and repetition of Israeli attacks on them, but they also want to avoid a regression to a time of marginalization both politically and developmentally, the case they experienced since the evolution of Lebanon. The fears of the Maronites seem tougher. Their immigration rates continue to rise, and their population numbers continue to fall in comparison to the Muslim population. The Maronites, once had been the rulers of Lebanon are now forced to make an alliance with the Sunni or Shiite Muslims in order to win in the elections. Consequently, they were divided into two parties: the Free Patriotic Movement (allied with the Shiites), and the Lebanese Forces (allied with the Sunnis). This of course does not mean that there is no competition and aspirations inside the Lebanese sects themselves for leadership and presidency.
However, it seems that no matter how hard the Lebanese sects try, they will not be able to change the internal balances of political power. Their ability to make regional policies for Lebanon does not seem entirely domestic. The impact of the regional situation, and the impact of Arab reconciliations and conflicts, can not be ignored or underestimated. It is known that all agreements for reforming the internal Lebanese situation after any political crises were made at the regional and international level. This is true for all agreements, from the "Taif Accord" to the "Doha Agreement". That said the struggle for parliamentary majority, while important, is not supposed to become a source for "sectarian" or "ideological" concern, as long as mutual regional understanding continues to prevail, and as long as international polices continue to move towards using political dialogue in resolving conflicts... The next weeks will tell.
Dr. Talal Atrissi – A Professor at Lebanese University