Iran Election Guide

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Entries in Lebanon (5)


Iran's Election: Reactions Around the World

microphone07After the purported re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the President of Iran, a selection of reactions both from inside Iran and from the rest of the world:

Mir Hossein Mousavi, Reformist Candidate:

“I'm warning I will not surrender to this dangerous charade. The result... will jeopardize the pillars of the Islamic Republic and will establish tyranny.”

Mehdi Karroubi, Reformist Candidate:

“Evidently the results and the institution coming out of such a vote count is illegitimate and unacceptable.”

Mohsen Rezai, Conservative Candidate:

“It is obvious that the person who has been declared president following the legal procedures is the president of all Iranian people. I will support him in a bid to prevent any delays in the provision of services to the people.”

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Supreme Leader:

“The chosen and respected president is the president of all the Iranian nation and everyone, including yesterday's competitors, must unanimously support and help him.”

Hamid Karzai, Afghan President:

“The selection of Dr Ahmadinejad with a definitive majority of the Iranian people's vote is a suitable selection for the continuous progress and welfare of the Iranian nation.”

Avigdor Lieberman, Israeli Foreign Minister:

“Given the continued Iranian policies, and particularly following the victory and continued rule of Ahmadinejad, the international community must continue to act in an uncompromising manner to stop Iran from going nuclear, stop its support for terror organisations and its undermining of Middle East stability.”

Amr Moussa, Arab League Secretary-General:

“We hope that the next term will witness progress on the relations between Iran and the Arab world and co-operation in establishing peace in the Middle East.”

Bashar Al-Assad, Syrian President:

Expressed "his faith that relations and co-operation will be reinforced between Syria and Iran."

Ali Al-Dabbagh, Iraqi Government Spokesman:

“Iraq will deal with any choice that is decided by the Iranian people. Iraq hopes to maintain friendly relations with Iran.”

Fawzi Salloukh, Lebanese Foreign Minister:

“We hope that the success of President Ahmadinejad in Iran will be in the service of peace and calmness in the Middle East.”

Fawzi Barhum, Hamas Spokesman:

“The results of the Iranian election are a victory for Iranian democracy, the Iranian people, the leaders and all parties and factions that participated.”

Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State:

“We are monitoring the situation as it unfolds in Iran. But we, like the rest of the world, are waiting and watching to see what the Iranian people decide. We obviously hope that the outcome reflects the genuine will and desire of the Iranian people.”

EU Presidency:

“The presidency is concerned about alleged irregularities during the election process and post-election violence that broke out immediately after the release of the official election results on 13 June 2009. The presidency hopes that the outcome of the presidential elections will bring the opportunity to resume dialogue on the nuclear issue and clear up the Iranian position in this regard.”

French Foreign Ministry:

“We have noted the results of the presidential elections in Iran as announced by the Iranian authorities, which returned Mr Ahmadinejad for a second term as head of the Iranian government, and that they are contested by two of the candidates. We are continuing to follow the situation closely.”

Lawrance Cannon, Canadian Foreign Minister:

“Canada is deeply, deeply concerned by reports about voting irregularities in the Iranian election. We're troubled by reports of intimidation of opposition candidates' offices by security forces.”

Frank-Walter Steinmeier, German Foreign Minister:

“The violent actions of the security forces against demonstrators is not acceptable, nor is preventing peaceful protest. We will continue to monitor the situation on the ground very carefully.”

Lebanon's Elections: 10 Essential Lessons

lebanon-flag1I was going to write a follow-up on some of the ridiculous US-based analysis of Monday's Lebanese elections. Thomas Friedman, for example, passed ludicrous and headed towards appalling in his Wednesday column in The New York Times, while that paper's editorial board reduced the outcome to "a solid victory over Hezbollah...[and] a major setback for the militant group’s supporters in Iran and Syria".

On second thought, however, best to be positive. I think this evaluation by Rami Khouri, written for Agence Global and Middle East Online, is outstanding, not only in its reading of the results but its attention to the near-future: "None of this really mattered much...because the balance of power in Lebanon (as in the entire Arab world) is not really anchored in parliament, but in power relations that are negotiated elsewhere."

The Lessons of Lebanon's Elections

We can draw many lessons from the Lebanese parliamentary elections Sunday, which saw the selection of a new parliament reflecting almost precisely the same distribution of seats among the country’s two main political groupings as the pervious parliament (68 seats for the Hariri-led March 14 movement, 57 seats for the Hizbullah-Michel Aoun-led March 8 group, and three independents). Here are my conclusions about what happened and what it means:

1. The elections were important, but inconsequential. Why an individual, a party, or an ethnic-religious group decides to vote for one side or the other is endlessly fascinating and constantly evolving. It is also totally meaningless in Lebanon’s case, because the whole is more important than its parts. Power, governance and decision-making in Lebanon are defined by the crushing imperative of consensus-based rule, which means that any combination of majorities and minorities will always need to achieve consensus on major national decisions; drivers change, but the engine of this bus does not.

2. After Turkey, Lebanon becomes the second Muslim-majority country in the Middle East that can boast holding elections combining logistical efficiency with political credibility, including some surprise results that could not be predicted. Three cheers for Lebanese parliamentary elections.

3. None of this really mattered much, however, because the balance of power in Lebanon (as in the entire Arab world) is not really anchored in parliament, but in power relations that are negotiated elsewhere. The most important political contest in Lebanon happened in May 2008, not June 2009. Hizbullah and its armed allies won that brief battle on the streets, and power-sharing contours in Lebanon have been defined ever since. This is ugly stuff -- young men shooting RPG’s at each other in the city and mountain villages -- but in the Middle East the modern exercise of power, like the condition of most Arab statehood, consistently has been a messy endeavor.

4. The elections generate validity and credibility, not ideological triumph. The March 14 movement affirmed that its core values reflect those of about half the population of Lebanon -- though precisely what those values are remains slightly imprecise. Much of the movement’s success reflects its opposition to the March 8 forces that include backing from Syria, Iran, Islamists and others in the region who are often critical of the United States, Israel and conservative Arabs. We always knew that March 14 represented many Lebanese; now we also have proof that it is resilient and strong. But we do not know what it represents in ideological terms other than opposing the Hizbullah-Aoun alliance.

5. We have seen again that tribe triumphs policy. The massive turnout of Sunni voters seems to have been one of the decisive reasons for the March 14 victory. This is perfectly normal and legitimate; but it tells us more about the anthropology of blood ties among the human species than it does about the contestation of power in a modern society. Faced with a do-or-die scenario, March 14 and its Sunni core rose to the electoral and tribal challenge.

6. Swift-boating is universal. Just as George W. Bush defeated John Kerry in 2004 by tarnishing him as a coward in the Swift boat incident in Vietnam decades ago, March 14 successfully frightened many voters with its theme that a Hizbullah-Aoun victory would dry up Saudi and American financial support for Lebanon and bring the economy to a grinding halt.

7. All politics in Lebanon is local, regional, global and cosmic. March 14 won and March 8 did not do as well as the pre-vote polls predicted because of a neat convergence of: a) local identities (Sunni, Shiite, assorted Christians, Druze, Armenian) battling to claim their share of the national pie in parliament, b) regional Arab players (mainly Saudi Arabia and Syria, and Egypt slightly) exerting their influence through their respective Lebanese partners and proxies, c) non-Arab regional and foreign forces (Iran, the United States, France, Israel) also backing their favorites, and, d) cosmic forces in the form of the Maronite church hierarchy constantly advocating for righteousness among voting Lebanese that would accurately mirror God’s will on Earth.

8. Key regional and global players started speaking and negotiating with each other in the past year, rather than using threats and subversion as their main form of engagement, which lowered regional tensions and thus prompted some Lebanese to see their future as one of calm, security and prosperity. It is a mistake to see the election results as mainly an American triumph or Iranian defeat, though elements of those views are relevant. Unraveling the distinct local, regional, global and cosmic strands of this election offers a better conclusion than a simplistic United States vs. Iran approach.

9. Fatigue matters. Some independent or undecided Lebanese voters clearly remembered the 2006 war, the 2007 Gaza war, and the May 2008 fighting in Lebanon, and did not want to put the country on a permanent diet of confrontation, bickering, resistance, warfare and destruction. March 14 successfully presented itself as the antidote to perpetual war.

10. The relative decline of Michael Aoun’s movement, while the Hariri-led, Sunni-based Future Movement and Shiite-anchored Hizbullah both held their ground or improved, suggests that tribes and triumphant armed movements will always out-perform one-man shows. Aoun is a historic phenomenon that may or may not persist. Shiites and Sunnis competing to preserve their communal power will be forces in Lebanon for a long time.

Lebanon's Election: Text of Hezbollah's Concession Speech (8 June)

nasrallahThe text of the speech delivered by Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah on Al Manar Television after the Lebanese elections on 8 June 2009:

I take refuge in Allah from the stoned devil. In the Name of Allah, The Compassionate, The Most Merciful. Praise be to Allah, The Lord of the world. Peace be on our Master and Prophet – The Seal of Prophets – Abi Al Qassem Mohamad Bin Abdullah and on his chaste and kind Household, chosen companions and all the prophets and messengers. Peace be upon you all and Allah's blessing and mercy.

Tonight I will move from the general to the private then I will end up with two general topics. Indeed I'll address you all in my speech which tackles the event we passed through together which is the parliamentary elections and its outcome.

First: I would like to congratulate all the Lebanese people with all their political parties, movements and groups on this great important national achievement.

I would like also to praise the popular showing at voting stations in all regions and from all sects what reflects a great political responsibility towards national causes and the present and future of this nation and people. This is indeed a very great positive point which must be lauded and which must be likewise stressed and strengthened because after all it sets a clear track that shows that we as a Lebanese people deserve to own this chance and to resort to this means in face of essential causes.

Second: I would like to thank all ministries and political, judiciary and security administrations especially the Lebanese Army and the security forces on their running of this process and on preserving security, stability and peace what gave a great chance for the Lebanese to vote and express their views. This is noticeable especially because these political, security and judiciary administrations were before a great challenge which is holding elections in one day. So despite the defects and flaws which took place and which indeed will be evaluated so as to be addressed later, we believe it was a major challenge and we believe that it was faced with great responsibility.

Third: I like to congratulate all the winners in parliamentary elections whether from the Loyalists or from the Opposition and in all parliamentary districts. They all must know that now they have assumed the responsibility of the people and the future of this country. So Inshallah they will live up to this assumed responsibility.

Fourth: We accept the results announced by the Interior Minister indeed while preserving the right of candidates in the various districts. If any of them has any information that enables him to appeal before the Constitutional Council, this would be a particular issue. As for the official results which were announced, we accept them with sportsmanship and democratic spirits. We also accept that the other contesting group – i.e. the Loyalists – has won the majority of seats in the parliament though the Opposition preserved its previous parliamentary position in sum (as it lost some districts and won others).
Indeed we accept the parliamentary majority. Well in previous ceremonies, I used to say that there is a difference between parliamentary majority and popular majority. The parliamentary majority might or might not be the popular majority. Anyway, we accept the parliamentary majority. As for the popular majority, it seems that needs centers for studies and statistics to review figures closely so as to know who gains the popular majority. I believe that we all can resort to the ballot boxes to help us in deciding the popular majority (as we resorted to ballot boxes to decide the parliamentary elections) and if most of the votes in sum were for the interest of the other party, I will accept that they are also the popular majority.
Now we accept the results regardless of our evaluation of the election process and the means used in this regard whether the huge expenditure which will be clearly illustrated within days, the sectarian, factional –and at times racial- incitement which was illustrated during the election campaigns days, the accusations and lies which aimed at intimidating the public opinion especially within some sects and some districts, (It is more precise to say that lying mills were used in this perspective) and the open and overt foreign interference. Anyway, I will not interfere in such an evaluation. I just wanted to point even if with hints to that. We will have our evaluation of the election process from A to Z as the other forces will make such evaluations but that will not influence our acceptance of the results.

In this framework and as we are talking about results and accepting results, I would like to point out two big lies (which have been prompted through the election campaign) that have been thwarted. As these points are directly related to us especially the Opposition and more precisely to Hezbollah, I feel that I am concerned in singling them out and clarifying these two points.
First the lie number one is the political rhetoric that has been exploited for months regarding the Opposition as seeking to cripple elections and ruining the political and security status so as to prevent elections from taking place. Then if the Opposition found out that it is losing the elections and not moving towards parliamentary majority while voting is taking place it will destroy the ballots and blur up the situation. Also if after counting votes or when results are announced, the Opposition will not accept the results and will challenge the parliamentary elections and consider them illegitimate and consequently push the country towards political, popular and security crises. This has been said if not from all Loyalist leaderships (to be on the safe side) from most of them.

Well today (Monday) here I am at your service. The results were announced and we are dealing with them normally. This is the first proof on the big lie invested in the elections campaign. The election day was normal, natural and excellent. The security status was excellent and stable. The turnout was huge. The vote counting was quiet. Results were announced and no problem took place. It was clear that all were fearful. I was following up with the Interior Minister – whom we address with a special salutation – while he was saying now we are over with the elections and the great event is issuing the results via vote counting. We have to accept the outcome because there was anxiety. This is the first point. We may say that this is one of the big lies which were invested in the election campaign. Now it fell.

No comes the second lie which is even bigger than the first and which was invested more in the election campaign. Well when I handle such points I don't mean to record lies to highlight the upcoming stage. We want to benefit from the past to highlight the future. In recent months, speeches, statements and interviews focused on how elections would be held while the resistance arms are still there. That means that elections are not fair; people are under pressure; they can't express themselves as this arm is imposing choices on the people; the people are not convinced in their choices. This also and to be on the safe side was said by most of the other party leaderships. They wrote articles and made lengthy interviews on this issue. Indeed if the opposition won the parliamentary elections, that issue was to be raised again. They would've said the fairness of the elections is challenged because it was held in the presence of the resistance arms. Now and because the Loyalists had the parliamentary elections no one is tackling that issue. I am reminding of that because after the elections were announced and we accepted that, this great lie has been exposed. The elections were held in Lebanon in all districts in the presence of the arms weapons. In the presence of the resistance arsenal which has never been present since 1982, people voted; there was no pressure; no one imposed anything on them, results were issue today and nothing took place.
So one of the most important conclusions is that this arm is not used to impose political realities. One of the most important political events at most is parliamentary elections because the role played by the parliament in the Lebanese regime is well known whether electing the president (We as well are through also with the lie of shortening the presidential tenure), forming the government, lawmaking, public budget, agreements… So if we wanted to say which is the most important internal political event at all? It is the parliamentary elections. Well people voted with utmost ease and freedom. Neither the arms nor their deed was noticed. This proves what we have always been saying that these arms are not to impose political realities and not to put or take off people from power. It has a clear employment which is that of resistance and defending the country. Here I stress that the election process as a whole had proved before all accusers and misleaders the soundness of the direction to which this arm is pointed. I wrap up this point saying that the Lebanese have proved their ability as a state, people and political and security forces to preserve security, stability, civil peace, political and media election competition – even sharp competition – without touching on the pillars of security and stability. Now we must guard and preserve this. We have always been saying that we have to resort to the ballot boxes. The whole story of the Opposition since July War until now was resorting to the polls. We would have spared our country all these troubles.

Fifth, I like to greet with high estimation all the Lebanese National Opposition leaderships, cadres, movements, parties and masses. I tell them: Dear ones, we have together put before our eyes a noble national goal which is working to achieve a great reform on all perspectives whether legal, political, economic, social, living, financial… Thus we – the Lebanese National Opposition – sought to gain the parliamentary majority to serve the reform project and not to seize power and have hegemony over the authority. We all in the Lebanese National Opposition exerted utmost legitimate efforts in the election battle. We have all faced what was properly called by General Michael Aoun a global war because no one in the whole world hasn't but tried to interfere in the elections. The Opposition masses got involved in this great national battle with utmost faithfulness and zeal.

Now if we couldn't serve this reform project which we believed in from the parliamentary majority post, that does not mean that we have no obligation as national forces to serve this reform project from another position whether as parliamentary, popular and political Opposition from outside or inside the government. These options are open for debate. But this responsibility towards the reform project which we believed in and sought to achieve remains valid. Today I renew the pledge and call on all the Opposition leaderships to renew the pledge and commitment along with all the popular groups who have voted for the Opposition tickets in many and all the districts to renew their pledges to serve the reform project which the masses have believed in and worked for and bore and stood with the opposition forces all through the past period all these sufferings. This responsibility never ends or stops. Indeed the parliamentary elections despite their importance are not more than a station in the long way of the national political struggle to achieve these noble goals.

We in the Opposition are supposed to make consultations very soon Inshallah to decide our steps, course and the way to deal with the upcoming events. Indeed we are before naming the speaker and the premier and forming the government, and we have to decide on how to deal with these events as an Opposition. Now I do not want to have the final word in any matter because that needs studying, consultations and an agreement among the National Opposition. That will take place in the next few days Inshallah.

I whole-heartedly and on behalf of all my brethrens in Hezbollah leadership thank and highly esteem specially the masses of the resistance and the masses of Hezbollah. Here I would like to mention the categorization resorted to in the electoral districts. In some districts there wasn't election competition. We considered them as present on the fire line such as South, Baalbek-Hermel, Beirut Southern Suburbs which gathered the two issues (being on the fire line and a competition district). In the districts where there was no competition but still we called on people to come massively to ballots stations to express the political choices especially regarding the resistance (as it is they who paid the tax of blood, displacement, house demolition during July War and others) we found out that despite in the fact that South and Baalbeck-Hermel districts did not witness election competition, the percentage of voters was very high and in some cases exceeded the districts which witnessed sharp and tough competition. This huge popular turnout in the various regions is highly esteemed. Indeed it wasn't surprising because it is the conviction, wish and will of the people. I also want to thank the masses who participated in the districts where there were election competitions: Western Bekaa, Rashaya, Mid Bekaa, Mount Lebanon districts, the North and Beirut in general where we have popular masses, brethrens and activists who exerted great efforts. Also I like to thank the campaign staffs in all regions who worked for months with great and clear efforts which yielded this great popular presence. This was their right whether in the districts where there are Shiite seats or not and whether in the districts where there were Hezbollah voters or not because we worked on the bases that the Opposition as a whole is involved in the battle and it is our normal right that we be present. We have electors in northern Matn who want to vote also in Kisirwan, Jbeil and Koura and all the other districts. Here I want to condemn again some sectarian, factional racist rhetoric which does not agree that if the majority in a definite district is of a definite sect and others came to say the final word in the district. In fact, this is what took place in most of the districts. In some districts the final word was for sects and in others for factional minorities. So why here the speech is sectarian and there it is national? Every Lebanese person whatever his religious sect or faction be has the right and it is even his duty to vote in the region where he is registered in the striking rolls. That's his national obligation and if he failed to fulfill this obligation he would be abandoning his national responsibility. I greatly salute all the campaign staffs. I also congratulate all my brethrens in the Loyalty to Resistance Bloc in all the districts because all the Bloc's candidates won in all the districts with very high votes and they have gained unprecedented public support.

I conclude with two general points. The first has to do with the people and the great embrace in these districts which was much more like a referendum. The people have addressed the whole world with a message: the choice of the resistance is not that of an armed party or gang. It's not a choice imposed on people by force and pressure. No one could oblige the people especially in districts where there was no competition to leave their regions and go to ballot boxes in such huge turnout especially with the existence of new obstacles as a result of the new administration followed in elections. Those people who showed up in ballots sent a message to the whole world: the choice of resistance is a popular choice especially in areas which face the threat of aggression. Consequently the choice of resistance is an expression of the will of these people, their inclination, culture, awareness and life. This must be respected. The second message is that resistance is not a piece of arms to be debated but rather a popular will. This point is to be discussed on the dialogue table. It must be discussed regarding the people's will and choices, especially those people who live in the arena under threat.

In this point in particular, I heard some statements or discussions which express fear over this point in the upcoming stage. I say there is no need for fear in all cases. As long as the resistance is a popular choice embraced by the people there is no need for fear because no one can do anything with the popular will. I stressed this point before the elections and after the elections regardless of who might have won. This is left for a quiet dialogue and objective discussion. I believe this is the right path which all parties are supposed to have announced their commitment to. Consequently, there is no need to have fear or polarize over this topic whether now or in the upcoming stage.

The last point which I like to end with is that after this great national achievement in elections, the chance of establishing a strong capable fair state is still possible regardless of the election results. We agree that there are great challenges before us as Lebanese whether on the economic level (financial crisis) or on the social, living, political, administrative and other levels. So I believe we all must have reached the conviction of saving this country, developing it, solving its troubles, raising its status and guarding its independence, freedom and dignity. That needs the cooperation of all Lebanese regardless of the nature of this cooperation. The chance is still there. This is linked to the will of all political forces which have proved in ballot boxes their popular political parliamentary presence. Ballot boxes have proved that even those who did not win in parliamentary seats have great popular support in their regions which must not be neglected. So this has to do to a great extent with the will of the political forces and parties. But I believe that this is essentially and primarily linked to the party which gained the parliamentary majority in these elections. How will its conduct be? What's its true program? Let's put aside what was said before the elections. Tell us after the elections: what's the true program? What is the program which it wants? This program must be known to the Lebanese because this is the future of their country. What are the priorities of this party? In which mentality they will behave? With what spirit they will deal with the public affairs? Will they benefit from the previous years experiences especially the last four years? Will they blunder in classifying priorities or will they classify them in the right way?

After the parliamentary elections, the party which have become the parliamentary majority is more concerned with how to deal with the upcoming stage while the National Opposition which have preserved its parliamentary position will work from its popular parliamentary and political position which might be more on the popular level that will be illustrated in figures in the coming few days. So the majority is concerned with the fate of the country. It can't quit the square by any means. It is concerned in the upcoming stage to be clear with the Lebanese. Nothing must be hidden at all. That's because transparency and clarity and truthfulness are very important elements in our country to overcome troubles and disputes and to open doors wide before dialogue and agreement. So let's try to build a republic based on truthfulness. Enough with fabricating events that have to do with the authority or with deciding priorities based on lies, accusations, fears and worries. Tonight I like to answer all what was said in the election campaign. Let go with that. The days ahead will prove as this day that there were two lies which were exploited for the elections concerning the position of the Opposition from the elections and holding elections while there are arms. Let's put what have been said behind. Let's depend on faithfulness, transparency and clarity. Let's be open with each other whether Loyalists or Opposition so as to build together a country and to defend and develop it. Let's together help this country out of the crises which it has been suffering from for long.

We are before a new stage and status. May Allah bless all those who have exerted great efforts in the previous stage. This was a station. Let's deal with it with all its results. Let's benefit from the lessons of the past. Let's see where the gaps were? What are the good and bad points? What are the points of strength and points of weakness? Let's develop our presence. But what must not be touched ever is our responsibility towards our people and country especially those who had offered blood and great efforts to liberate this nation and defend its existence. This station must furnish us with more determination and will to continue working and struggling with hope and confidence in the future so that we be able to see our country for which our brethrens, sons and dear ones have offered their chaste souls and blood. We must preserve it, defend it and move it forward Inshallah. Peace be upon you and Allah's mercy and blessing.

Lebanon and Iran Elections: It's All About (The) US

Related Post: Lebanon’s Elections - From Global “Showdown” to Local Reality

lebanon-flagiran-flag11This piece started as an update on our main analysis of the results of Lebanon's elections, but with the US and British media's misreading, simplifications, and exaggerations spreading like kudzu, a separate entry is needed.

For Michael Slackman of The New York Times, it's not just a question of Washington shaping the Lebanese outcome: "Political analysts...attribute it in part to President Obama’s campaign of outreach to the Arab and Muslim world." You can slap the Obama model on top of any election to get the right result: "Lebanon’s election could be a harbinger of Friday’s presidential race in Iran, where a hard-line anti-American president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, may be losing ground to his main moderate challenger, Mir Hussein Moussavi."

Simon Tisdall, normally a shrewd observer of international affairs, trots out the same simplicities in The Guardian of London: "It's possible that watching Iranians will be encouraged in their turn to go out and vote for reformist, west-friendly candidates in Friday's presidential election. Lebanon may be just the beginning of the 'Obama effect'."

Juan Cole has posted a more thoughtful assessment, even as he opens with the reductionist and sensationalist declaration, "President Obama's hopes for progress on the Arab-Israeli peace process would have been sunk if Hezbollah had won the Lebanese elections." And Howard Schneider of The Washington Post, although premature in his anointing of Saad Hariri as Lebanon's next and primary leader (setting aside not only President Suleiman but also presuming that Hariri will be chosen as PM), sets out "the choice...between a showdown with his supporters, a showdown with Hezbollah or -- the more likely outcome -- a continued stalemate over the very issues voters hoped they were addressing in Sunday's balloting".

But if there is to be a simplification, in light of the internal political issues that follow the election, I would like it to come from Robert Fisk in The Independent of London:
What stands out internationally is that the Lebanese still believe in parliamentary democracy and President Obama, so soon after his Cairo lecture, will recognise that this tiny country still believes in free speech and free elections. Another victory for Lebanon, in other words, beneath the swords of its neighbours.


Lebanon's Elections: From Global "Showdown" to Local Reality

Related Post: Lebanon and Iran Elections - It’s All About (The) US


UPDATE --- IT'S ABOUT (THE) US: For Michael Slackman of The New York Times, it's not a question of Washington shaping the Lebanese outcome: "Political analysts...attribute it in part to President Obama’s campaign of outreach to the Arab and Muslim world." You can slap the Obama model on top of any election to get the right result: "Lebanon’s election could be a harbinger of Friday’s presidential race in Iran, where a hard-line anti-American president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, may be losing ground to his main moderate challenger, Mir Hussein Moussavi."

Simon Tisdall, normally a shrewd observer of international affairs, trots out the same simplicities in The Guardian of London: "It's possible that watching Iranians will be encouraged in their turn to go out and vote for reformist, west-friendly candidates in Friday's presidential election. Lebanon may be just the beginning of the 'Obama effect'."

Juan Cole has posted a more thoughtful assessment, even as he opens with the reductionist and sensationalist declaration, "President Obama's hopes for progress on the Arab-Israeli peace process would have been sunk if Hezbollah had won the Lebanese elections.")

My immediate reaction to the results of Lebanon's elections, in which a "March 14" coalition of largely Sunni Muslim and Christian groups including Saad Hariri, the son of the slain former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, maintained a Parliamentary majority (71 of 128 seats) over a "March 8" coalition of largely Shia Muslim and Christian groups including Hezbollah?


Not surprise at the result, even though many observers expected the Hezbollah coalition, which also included the Shia party Amal and the Christian party led by former President Michel Aoun, to take a narrow majority of seats. The balance of the result came in a handful of seat in largely Christian areas, and those groups in March 14 were able to mobilise their supporters more effectively than their counterparts in March 8.

The surprise instead came as I read, in American and British media, the sometimes vapid, often reductionist, possibly counter-productive framing of the outcome: "Pro-Western bloc defeats Hezbollah in crucial poll", "a Western-backed coalition...thwart[ed] a bid by the Islamist Hezbollah party to increase its influence". "a hotly contested election that had been billed as a showdown between Tehran and Washington for influence in the Middle East". Even one of the best "Western" analyses of the result, Robert Fisk's assessment in The Independent, was converted through an editor's headline to "Lebanese voters prevent Hizbollah takeover".

Anyone reading these headlines could be forgiven for concluding that the March 8 group consisted solely of "Islamist" Hezbollah, even though it fielded only 11 candidates (all of whom won) put forth by the coalition. Conversely, the March 14 bloc needed no further identification beyond "US-backed". The New York Times account did not even bother, apart from one phrase buried deep in the article, to explain what "March 14" was. It was enough to depict in the opening paragraphs "a significant and unexpected defeat for Hezbollah and its allies, Iran and Syria" and "Hezbollah itself — a Shiite political, social and military organization that is officially regarded by the United States and Israel as a terrorist group".

The post-election reality is likely to be far more mundane though important, not for US and British interpretations of "Hezbollah v. US (and Israel), but for the Lebanese people. Since the assassination of Rafik Hariri in June 2005 and Syria's withdrawal from the country, Lebanon --- with a fascinating but often frustrating political system trying to hold together Sunnis, Shi'a, and Christians --- has struggled to maintain a working national government. After months of effective suspension, a "National Unity" Cabinet with former General Suleiman as President was finally agreed in 2008. Members of the March 8 bloc held 1/3 of the Cabinet seats and a veto on proposed legislation.

The nominal March 14 majority does not resolve that situation. As Robert Fisk observes, "The electoral system – a crazed mixture of sectarianism, proportional representation and 'list' fixing – means that no one ever really "wins" elections in Lebanon, and yesterday was no different." So today Lebanon returns to the issue of whether that system will be maintained. While not making an explicit commitment, Saad Hariri said all parties must "give a hand to each other and have the will to go back to work". Hezbollah leader Sheikh Nasrallah, conceding defeat, offered conciliation: "We accept the official results in a sporting spirit. I would like to congratulate all those who won, those in the majority and those in the opposition."

The first post-election issue is likely to be whether the March 8 groups will retain their Cabinet veto. Withdrawing it risks a breakdown of "unity" and a return to the pre-2008 suspension of Government; maintaining it limits the scope for legislation and precludes the demand, put forth by Israel and the United States, for the disarming of Hezbollah's militias. And even before that, there is the question of who becomes Prime Minister: according to Al Jazeera, US officials prefer current PM Fouad Siniora to Hariri.

No doubt the veneer of Lebanon's result as a critical step in the Middle East peace process will continue for a few days, as. The Wall Street Journal declared, "The push back of Hezbollah is seen as providing President Barack Obama more diplomatic space to pursue his high-profile Arab-Israeli peace initiative." The reality, however, is that this image of Lebanon --- and beyond that, the Hezbollah v. US-Israel-peace-loving countries narrative --- is more pretext than substance, especially with the post-2005 Syrian pullback. I suspect that the issues that preoccupy most Lebanese are internal rather than external, and the space to deal with those political and economic matters would be welcomed.

So the danger is not that a Lebanon led by Hezbollah, and behind Hezbollah its "masters" in Iran, will emerge to challenge Israel and the US. Instead, the political knife cuts the other way: external rhetoric of the Hezbollah danger, a rhetoric which can always be escalated not to advance the regional peace process but to block it, would simply add to the internal tensions as Lebanon tries to find a stable political leadership in a time of great economic and social change.

So, as the Middle Eastern road show returns to more established venues --- George Mitchell in Israel and possibly Syria this week, a Hamas delegation including Khaled Meshaal going to Cairo, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promising a major foreign policy speech --- here's a proposed follow-up for the headline writers on Lebanon.

Leave It Be.