Lebanon vote shakes Syrian influence
By Sean Malloy
Voting in the recent Lebanese elections underlined the nation's desire for political independence. Results so far show a large swing against pro-Syrian candidates and towards supporters of the Islamic Hezbollah.
In the Beqaa valley, an eight-member multicultural ticket organised by the Hezbollah won outright. The ticket for the 10-seat electorate consisted of four Shia Muslims, two Sunni Muslims, a Maronite Christian and a Greek Orthodox Christian.
Pro-Syrian MP Hussein Husseini won one of the remaining Beqaa seats but resigned because of the humiliating defeat of other pro-Syrian candidates.
The elections were called by the pro-Syrian government in July despite opposition from Lebanese leaders from both left and right. Syria is seeking to consolidate a Lebanese government amenable to its interests before its troops withdraw to eastern Lebanon later this month.
A number of clumsy attempts by the government to shore up Syrian representation have merely aggravated Lebanese resentment. On July 16, the parliament voted to increase the number of deputies from 108 to 128, with most of the increase being in the Syrian-dominated north and east.
On July 24 the government decided to push for quick elections despite the fact that most Lebanese leaders didn't want them. "The momentum for the move came almost entirely from Syria, whose hold over the Beirut government is indisputable", reported the July 24 Middle East International.
"It is not the right moment for elections", said Druze leader Walid Jumblatt. "The Syrians want this election to try to give themselves a kind of credibility. We are not against the Syrians, but this is not the way to give them or ourselves credibility."
Forces opposing the elections came under severe pressure from the government. Citing the need to "restore state authority", the Lebanese army raided headquarters of the former militias of the Lebanese Forces and the Druze Progressive Socialist Party.
Most Lebanese fear Syrian dictatorship over Lebanon through a pro-Syrian government after the coming withdrawal, scheduled under an October 1989 peace accord signed at Taif in Saudi Arabia by survivors of the 1972 Lebanese parliament, the last elected before the civil war of 1975.
Interpretations of the Taif Accord vary, but most agree it calls for Syrian withdrawal to eastern Lebanon in September, followed by further negotiations for final withdrawal.