Lebanon: US interference mars elections


The Hezbollah-led opposition March 8 Coalition has conceded defeat in the June 7 Lebanese federal elections, which were marked by increasing US interference in the elections. For its part, the Israeli government raised fears a victory for the opposition would lead to war.

Results announced on June 8 showed that the governing US-supported March 14 Coalition had won 71 of parliament's 128 seats. The coalition is led by Saad al-Hariri, the son of former prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri who was assassinated in 2005.

The March 8 Coalition won 57 seats. The opposition alliance included predominately Shhiite Muslim-based resistance group Hezbollah, the Shiite Muslim-based Amal Movement, the Lebanese Communist Party, and the Free Patriotic Movement led by Maronite Christian leader Michel Aoun, among others.

The Western media have reported the result as a popular slap in the face for Hezbollah and a victory for the US.

However, the governing coalition won the most seats despite losing the popular vote. The Hezbollah-led opposition scored 50.4% to the March 14's 46%, BesideBeirut.wordpress.com said.

Lebanon's parliamentary system allocates seats according to religion, allowing the government to win 15 more seats despite receiving less votes overall.

US interference

The elections were marred by an increasingly undemocratic process, as well as US interference. The March 14 Coalition enjoyed strong support from US-backed regimes in Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

The US government threatened to cut aid to Lebanon if the opposition won. US aid to the government, including military assistance, was in the lead up to the vote.

The government and its supporters spread the lie that Hezbollah planned to create an Islamic republic if it won.

In a June 8 Counterpunch.org article, Franklin Lamb said: "Just before the voting, the Obama administration allowed Jeffrey Feltman, Deputy Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, in clear violation of Lebanon voting laws, which required no campaigning after midnight on Friday, to blitz the media through carefully timed interviews with pro-Majority An-Nahar and al-Hayat newspapers ..."

Feltman told the Lebanese media: "The election's outcome will naturally affect the world's stance towards the new Lebanese government and the manner in which the United States and Congress deal with Lebanon.

"I believe the Lebanese are smart enough to understand that there will be an effect."

Despite this, Hezbollah won all of the 11 districts they stood candidates in. The opposition coalition won 21 seats in its heartland in the south. Hezbollah and its allies won 10 seats in the eastern Baalbek region.

The claims against Hezbollah stand in stark contrast to the actual statements of its leaders. On June 5, leading Hezbollah member Sheik Naim Kassem told reporters he was willing to consider including members of the governing alliance in a coalition if the opposition won.

Lamb said that after the elections, a Hezbollah member in the outgoing parliament, Hasan Fadlallah, explained: "What matters to us now is that Lebanon turns a new page, one based on partnership, cooperation and understanding.

"Lebanon's specificity is in its diversity."

Hezbollah was created in 1982 as a Shiite organisation resisting the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon. It has also established social programs to help Lebanese people, including operating schools and hospitals.

Its credibility as a force to defend Lebanese people grew even more when it successfully defeated Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 2006. Despite its character as a primarily defensive military force responding to outside aggression, it is banned as a "terrorist organisation" in the US, Canada, Australia and Britain.

A June 10 Hezbollah statement said: "Hezbollah strongly condemns the United States's continual harsh and overt interference in Lebanon's internal affairs, especially the statements of its officials on the results of recent parliamentary elections.

"The US is annoyed by the level of popular support for the Resistance and its choices. That's why it re-vivified its unfair classifications of Hezbollah and invalid accusations against it of terrorism and anti-democracy."

A month before the vote, US Vice-President Joe Biden visited Beirut and said the US was considering cutting aid contributions if the opposition won.

Addressing the media alongside Lebanese President Michel Suleinman, Biden said: "I do not come here to back any particular party or any particular person. I come here to back certain principles.

"We will evaluate the shape of our assistance programs based on the composition of the new government and the policies it advocates."

The June 10 Jerusalem Post said the US had provided Lebanon with more than US$1 billion in assistance since 2006, including $410 million to the military and the police.

Undemocratic system

The threat of Hezbollah "domination" was always fake. Lebanon's electoral system is such that any victory would almost certainly lead to a minority government, requiring significant concessions to function.

The political system is based on an undemocratic gerrymander system called "confessionalism" that guarantees seats based on religious affiliations.

The three main religious groups are Sunni and Shi'a Muslims and Maronite Christians. A 1943 national pact established permanent rules about which religious group could hold which position. Executive powers were divided between the president of the republic (Maronite), president of the council of ministers (Sunni) and the president of the national assembly (Shi'a).

Greek Orthodox Christians were allocated the power of deputy speaker of the parliament.

The pact guaranteed that Christians must hold a 6:5 member majority in the parliament. With a growing Muslim population and in the face of significant unrest, this was altered in 1990 to an agreement that Christians must have at least half the seats in parliament.

Not only does such a system guarantee politics will be channelled into religious lines, it prevents a genuinely representative government from being formed.

With massive unrest and a growing Muslim population, Lebanon instituted the Taif agreement of 1990 which declared a 50:50 split in parliament members and reduced the powers of the Maronite president. This is despite the fact that Shiite Muslims account for about 40% of the population, while about 30% each of Sunni Muslims and Christians live in the country.

Little change

Despite the pro-US forces holding on to government, little has actually changed in the relationship of forces in Lebanon.

Hezbollah has enormous respect for the role it played in defending the country during Israel's 2006 war including among the Christian minority. It was seen as a force of national self-defence in contrast to a powerless government.

Lamb said: "The US administration is reportedly disappointed that their 'Team' did not achieve a stronger victory."

The result "has done little to change the political landscape here. It was never a question of an Islamic Republic if the Opposition had decisively prevailed or whether Hezbollah's weapons would be decommissioned before Lebanon was able to defend itself."

Hezbollah had one minister and seven cabinet places in the outgoing government. It is likely to continue participating in the cabinet. It also won the right of veto over any government decision after Hezbollah led the takeover of much of Beirut last year in response to government attacks against it. Hezbollah is likely to push for this to remain,

Lamb said opposition parliamentary leader, Hezbollah MP Mohamed Raad, insisted the government "must commit not to question our role as a resistance party, the legitimacy of our weapons arsenal and the fact that Israel is an enemy state".

Pro-Western forces may have won a flawed election, it doesn't mean the Lebanese people are about to roll over and accept the domination of US imperialism or its ally in Israel.