Hezbollah Is Humbled, But Not Defeated
Christian voters gave March 14 its victory. Hezbollah ally Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) lost considerable support among Christians, but because of the Doha redistricting, still won more seats than his party did in the 2005 elections. Districts he won overwhelmingly in 2005, he won in 2009 with only a small margin.
Districts in north Lebanon in which he allegedly had significant support ended up electing March 14 candidates with a comfortable margin.
The Free Patriotic Movement candidates in the south Lebanon district of Jezzine appear to have won thanks to Shia Hezbollah supporters.
FPM candidates elected in the suburban Beirut district of Baabda appear to have won their seats based primarily on support from Shia voters, not Christians. It appears that heavy Sunni turnout in Zahle, the largest Christian city in the Middle East, provided March 14 Christian candidates with a comfortable lead.
This is the way system is intended to work. Muslim voters are intended to elect some Christian parliamentarians, because Christians do not represent half of the population of Lebanon even though they are allocated half of the parliamentary seats. However, winning Christian parliamentary seats primarily through Shia support while losing the Christian vote in those districts undermines Aoun's claims that he is the sole legitimate representative of Lebanon's Christian community. Political analyst and talk show host Nadim Koteich contends on his blog, "Aoun [can] barely claim the representation of 30% of the Christians, compared to the proclaimed 70% of the 2005 election."
The electoral results took most analysts and the Lebanese public by surprise. The March 14 coalition appeared to have difficulties in the weeks leading up to the elections. These included excessive deliberations and public squabbles in choosing candidates, a March 14 leader caught on tape criticizing his coalition partners and Christian voters, and accusations of vote buying.
The March 8 coalition portrayed itself as the inevitable winner, a psychological device some analysts claim was intended to discourage Lebanon's large diaspora population from flying home to vote.
However, March 8 grandstanding also seems to have had the inverse affect. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah made a series of pronouncements that many Lebanese thought overexposed the leading cleric and frightened voters on the fence. Nasrallah called Hezbollah's violent 2008 incursion into Beirut a "glorious day" that saved Lebanon from civil war, whereas most voters thought precisely the opposite. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's statements contending that a Hezbollah victory would open up a new front in the Iranian campaign against Israel does not seem to have encouraged many Lebanese to support the March 8 coalition.
Analysts, commentators, and bloggers are divided over whether or not U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's and U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden's separate visits to Lebanon had any effect on the elections.
Ron Rosenbaum contends that President Obama's speech to the Muslim world from Cairo might have been an attempt to influence the Lebanese elections.
Even if the electorate did not respond to the statements of support from American officials, March 14 politicians were personally invigorated with the knowledge that they would have U.S. support, and thus did not need to compromise their beliefs for fear that the U.S. would allow a return of Syrian overlordship.
In the end, the March 14 coalition and the March 8 coalition have the exact same number of parliamentary seats as resulted from the 2005 elections, but March 14 can now govern with an invigorated mandate.
The humbled March 8 coalition will likely have a much more difficult time opposing the March 14 agenda, and a repeat of Hezbollah's May 2008 attack is unlikely.
The next battle will be over the creation of the government and cabinet.