Hezbollah Is Humbled, But Not Defeated

Hezbollah and its allies in the March 8 coalition failed to win a majority of seats in the 2009 Lebanese parliamentary elections, losing to the incumbent March 14 coalition. The elections give the March 14 coalition an invigorated mandate, and are a vote of confidence in March 14's vision for Lebanon's future regional and international relations.

However, the March 8 coalition's strong electoral showing (it controls 45% of parliamentary seats -- 57 seats out of a total of 128), the nature of Lebanon's sectarian political system, and Hezbollah's weapons and previous willingness to violently undermine the government mean that Hezbollah will most likely be included in a national unity government. The debate over the future governance of Lebanon is far from over.

March 14's victory puts to rest myths and theories propagated in the March 8 and Syrian press in the years after 2005 parliamentary elections. There is now no doubt that March 14 enjoys nationwide support across sectarian, regional, and class boundaries. Voters do not appear to believe that the 2005-2008 March 14 government was too extreme, too pro-Western, too pro-Sunni/Saudi, or pro-Israel. It also indicates that voters reject a return of Syrian influence in Lebanon and a rejection of closer relations with Iran.

In a televised speech on Monday, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah conceded the March 8 coalition's defeat, but said that Hezbollah would not tolerate any discussion of disarming it and bringing the Iranian backed party under the rule of the Lebanese government. The soon to be formed March 14 government will likely have to concede Hezbollah's "right" to "defend" the country against Israel, thus placing the Lebanese government in a precarious position in the event of a war with Israel.

Given that Shia voters overwhelmingly support Hezbollah and Amal (another Shia political party allied with Hezbollah) the parties will likely enter into the new government and be offered cabinet ministries so as not to alienate and indirectly disenfranchise a community that makes up 1/3 of the Lebanese population.

The Lebanese parliamentary system allots seats based on religion, with half of the 128 parliamentary seats allocated to Christians, and the other half divided between Sunni, Shia, Druze, and others. The electoral districts and the sectarian composition of the districts are gerrymandered prior to each election in an electoral law enacted by the outgoing parliament. The 2009 parliamentary districts significantly differ from the 2005 districts, with the creation of smaller, predominantly Christian districts.

The 2009 electoral law was formulated at the Doha Accords, which occurred after Hezbollah and its allies violently stormed Beirut in May 2008. March 8 Christian leader Michel Aoun has claimed that he authored the Doha electoral law, gerrymandering it to his advantage, and boasted that he would win the largest parliamentary bloc in Lebanese history. Aoun failed in his quest, with March 14 winning in many regions where Aoun was believed to have the advantage.

The election was most vigorously contested in Christian regions. Shia voters overwhelmingly support March 8 factions Hezbollah and Amal. A majority of Sunni voters support the Future Movement, the largest party in the March 14 coalition, while the Druze overwhelmingly support the March 14 coalition partnered Progressive Socialist Party.

Christians, however, split their support between various national, regional, and local political parties and personalities.