The relatively smooth elections were followed by an eventless celebration of a March 14 and allies win by a clear margin. Some shooting incidents have been reported today, but nothing out of the “ordinary” so far. Anyone attempting to explain the results of this election in simplistic terms or to attribute it to declarations by Joe Biden or Jeffrey Feltman will have a hard time reconciling the larger picture with the nitty gritty of political life in Lebanon. As is always the case with Lebanese politics, the devil is in the details.
Back in 2005, March 14 and allies won 72 of the 128 seats, Hizballah/Amal and allies won 35, and the Free Patriotic Movement won 14. In terms of overall numbers, there is not much change this year. There are some minor changes in the composition. For example, Aoun got a free ride in Jizzin this time where he swept all three seats at Nabih Berri’s expense. Such shifts notwithstanding, talk of the incredible retreat in Aoun’s popularity since 2005 are exaggerated. With his allies, he still retains the largest Christian bloc in parliament despite the fact that the seats were won by narrower margins than in 2005. But this has to be seen in light of the immense wave of popularity Aoun rode upon his return from France and which four years of Lebanese politics are enough to squander… for anyone.
The real blow for the opposition, particularly the Free Patriotic Movement, was that they expected to garner more seats under the new, more representative law. Since Hizballah and Amal’s wins in largely homogenous districts were guaranteed, the burden was on Aoun to carry out the victory in majority Christian areas. What happened, in a sense, was that instead of favoring the FPM, the new electoral law magnified the political divisions within Christian communities and reproduced them on an ever smaller scale. The dramatic differences in voting patterns from one Christian village to another is evidence of this.
Aoun did deliver in Baabda (6-0), Kisirwan (5-0), Matn (6-2), and Byblos (3-0) — this despite Michel al-Murr migrating to March 14th in Matn and president Michel Sulayman’s last minute withdrawal of his candidate in Byblos to the benefit of March 14th. But the seats gained in these districts were lost in Zahleh (0-7), Batroun (0-2), and Beirut 1 (0-5). The tenacious “Muslim” vote was not absent from these battles, though, with the Shiite vote in Baabda and Byblos and the Sunni in Zahleh and Kurah influencing the final results. Anger at Hizballah in Batroun probably also played a hand in the ignominious defeat of incumbent minister of telecommunications and Aoun’s son-in-law, Jubran Basil (the soldier who died when Hizballah shot down the Lebanese army helicopter last summer was from Batroun).
So, we are back to the status quo that existed after the alliance between Hizballah and March 14th broke down in 2005. This happens to the relief of many, perhaps even Hizballah who were quick to concede defeat last night. But the pre-Doha status quo carries with it the dangers that have engulfed Lebanon the past four years. Where the different parties will go with the results of the elections depends on the government formation process and — to zoom back out again — on regional developments. Surprises and reshuffles of the kind that followed the 2005 elections are not to be ruled out completely. Not yet.
Addendum 1 (14:55 Beirut time): Talk about striking while the iron is hot. Muhammad Raad (Hizballah MP) assured AFP that the crisis will continue unless the majority “changes its behavior.” He listed basic principles the majority should abide by, first among them is leaving Hizballah’s weapons alone, another is to grant either guarantees or a blocking third in government.
Addendum 2 (15:14 Beirut time): Official results of Lebanese elections 2009 on the Ministry of Interior website (in Arabic).