"friday-lunch-club": "... Regional thaw rubbing off on Lebanon ..."
"... Regional thaw rubbing off on Lebanon ..."
"....The result effectively reproduces the parliament of the last four
years, condemning Hizbollah and its allies to another electoral period
in opposition. The prospect of a continued pro-Western government in
Lebanon could aid US attempts to create momentum in regional peace
ANALYSIS: Despite reports from international election
observers of widespread vote-buying, Lebanon's 2009 parliamentary
elections were conducted relatively freely, fairly and quietly. Big
crowds queued at polling stations for hours, and a sometimes hateful
tone emerged in the electoral campaign. ....
Turnout impact. Voter
turnout surpassed 54%, a record in Lebanese history and 10% higher than
the fiercely fought 2005 elections. The number signals a growing
popular belief in Lebanon's democracy since 2005 ...
reaction. Hizbollah officials have reacted graciously in defeat. The
party won all eleven seats which it contested and can therefore argue
that it won the elections even if March 8 did not. It will also feel
that the result does not change the status quo:
* It will
therefore insist on a blocking third in a unity government, allowing it
to continue to obstruct the passing of legislation if necessary.
It will continue to make clear that it will not tolerate any
questioning of its role as a resistance party, the legitimacy of its
weapons arsenal, and the fact that Israel is an enemy state.
outcome may suit it better than winning a majority, which would have
made it the governing party and forced it to produce results. Instead
it now retains its well-rehearsed role as the critical oppositional
Christian battle. For March 8's other main constituent, Aoun's FPM, the defeat will generate more soul-searching:
* Aoun has failed to persuade the majority of Lebanon's Christians with
his programme based on anti-corruption, secularism and bridge-building
with Lebanon's Shia parties, amid widespread scepticism about Hizbollah.
* The defeat could lead to an internal coup in the FPM, whose younger
leaders have previously voiced unhappiness with 'the General'.
Unity government. As leader of the majority party in parliament, Saad
al-Hariri will be given the task of leading negotiations for a new
government and set the direction of national policy. He will have no
other choice than to aim for another all-embracing 'unity government',
the third since 2005. The key question is the extent to which March 14
will now use their relatively comfortable majority in negotiations:
* Hariri has signalled his unwillingness to grant the opposition veto power ...
* Hizbollah and its allies will make veto power an absolute demand, ...
Drawn-out government formation. These points of disagreement could lead
to a drawn-out government formation process. In a worst-case scenario,
Lebanon could be without a government for months, increasing the risk
of violent clashes, and bringing back the fundamental schisms over
which Lebanon's political life has been log jammed for the last four
Regional context. As always in Lebanon, much depends on
the regional context. US President Barack Obama's less confrontational
approach and nascent Syrian-Saudi rapprochement may already have
contributed to the calmer atmosphere. If the Obama administration's
regional peace efforts gain momentum, and the rapprochement between
Saudi Arabia and Syria continues, a regional thaw could rub off on
US Middle East envoy George Mitchell will be in Beirut on
June 14 for talks with Suleiman. A win for Mir Hossein Moussavi in this
week's Iranian elections and renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts
could generate further optimism. Such progress would lessen the
mistrust between political parties in Lebanon:
could accept Hariri as prime minister and even relinquish the blocking
third in exchange for guarantees regarding its weapons.
leader Walid Jumblatt, who has been moving towards rapprochement with
Syria and Hizbollah in recent months, could become a crucial bridging
Policy challenges. Suleiman stressed yesterday that
a new government must focus on political and administrative reforms.
His comments reflected fear that a new unity government could be just
as sclerotic as the previous ones. After extended periods of political
stalemate in the last four years, Lebanon faces a long list of overdue
social and economic policy challenges:
* The electoral law,
which was amended last year but is still far from meeting international
standards, requires changes.
* Reform of the judiciary is needed in order to tackle widespread corruption.
* Work is needed to begin to bring down Lebanon's 42 billion dollar foreign debt...."