Surprise verdict


Elections in Lebanon have thrown up a surprise verdict. The pro-western 14 March coalition has won 71 seats in the 128-member parliament, one more than its tally four years ago. The verdict is a blow to the Hezbollah led opposition.  While the opposition managed to win 57 seats only, Hezbollah itself has not done too badly having won all the 11 seats it contested. Hezbollah and its smaller Shia ally Amal swept the vote in Lebanon’s mainly Shia areas indicating that its support among the Shias remains strong. Early signs from the election provide hope. Although the election was conducted in a charged atmosphere, voting itself was violence-free. What is more, all parties have responded maturely to the verdict. While Saad al-Hariri -- the Sunni leader who heads the biggest faction in the 14 March coalition refrained from indulging in triumphalism in reacting to his coalitions victory, Hezbollah leader Nasrallah was gracious in accepting defeat. But whether this seemingly pleasant phase will survive the tough battles that lie ahead is debatable.

The immediate challenge is the formation of a government. In the best of times, this is a tricky job in Lebanon as it involves balancing sectarian and political elements. The issue of granting Hezbollah and its allies a veto-wielding share of cabinet seats is likely to prove divisive. This was a power that Hezbollah had secured during the unity talks at Doha last year. The 14 March coalition is reluctant to give Hezbollah this power. It could prove to be a flashpoint.

Lebanon can sort out its troubles only if foreign powers end their meddling in the country. The electoral verdict is a setback for Iran and Syria, which back Hezbollah. Will these countries seek to destabilise Lebanon by prompting Hezbollah to trigger trouble?
The west has often spoken loftily of its support to a democratic Lebanon. In the run up to the election, US Vice-President Joe Biden said that aid to Lebanon depended on the electoral outcome, meaning that if Hezbollah won funds could dry up. This indicated the US’ utter contempt for the choices of the Lebanese voter. It is time the US recognised that whether it likes it or not Hezbollah is a party, which contests and wins elections. The 14 March coalition has to learn to work with Hezbollah and so long as it takes its cues from the west, it will not be able to do so.

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