Posted by: sean | June 8, 2009

Let the gloating begin

simpsons_nelson_haha2uwrNow that it’s clear that March 14 has won, we can expect to see a lot of gloating in the American press. Expect to see commentary like “Lebanese choose modernity over resistance,” which is silly really, because I don’t think anyone who knows Lebanon well would argue that Aoun’s FPM and Hezbollah aren’t modern.

Now Lebanon has a breakdown, in Arabic, of the results here. For a list in English from last night, check out Qifa Nabki here. (The government election site is still showing nothing.) Yesterday, I predicted that Ashrafieh would go 3-2 for March 14, but it looks like it actually went 5-0 in a shutout that mirrored the 7-0 and 3-0 March 14 upsets in Zahle and Koura. Other interesting results include Siniora destroying Ousama Sa’ad in Saida by a huge margin and the west Beka’a going 6-0 for March 14.

Now Lebanon has broken down the results in a color coded map here:

election results - english

I checked out the BBC and CNN this morning to see if they were covering the elections, but they were full of coverage of the European Parliament elections, which is interesting, because most people in Europe have no idea who their representative is in Bruxelles. Interestingly enough, from the brief coverage I’ve seen, it looks like the turnout there was only 40% as opposed to the nearly 55% turnout here in Lebanon. On a side note, the journalist for the BBC asked if that level of turnout cast doubts on the legitimacy of the elections, to which a spokesman for the legislative body snapped back, “do you doubt the legitimacy of the US Congress?” That made me chuckle, but he shouldn’t be so sure of the answer to that rhetorical question.

But I digress. As I was saying, we can expect to see a lot of lauding of Lebanese democracy by the same pundits who are constantly telling us that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. Look for a very American-centric reading of the results that will ignore local politics in order to pat Washington on the back. For example, check out WINEP’s Satloff telling us that the  March 14 victory can be attributed to … wait for it…. Joe Biden:

If early returns hold up and the March 14 coalition emerges victorious in Lebanese parliamentary elections, sending a resounding defeat to Iran’s proxy, Hezbollah, then one of the most important “unsung heroes” in the vote will have been… Vice President Joe Biden.

Biden’s surprise visit to Beirut on May 22 was not just gutsy. By reminding Lebanese voters that Washington will review financial assistance and other aspects of our relations with Lebanon depending on the outcome of the election, Biden played Middle East hardball. Lebanese voters—especially the critical swing Christian voters—seem to have gotten the message.

We can expect a lot more of this sort of analysis in the days ahead. The results will need to be analyzed and parsed, and I’ve got a couple of theories for the upset that I’ll get into later, but I think that when the dust settles it’s unlikely that Joe Biden will be cited by the Lebanese for why Aoun dropped the ball. (On the flip side, however, we can also expect some in the opposition to blame their failure on US meddling.) This US-centric attitude would just be silly if it weren’t also a little dangerous. March 14 has to be careful to be magnanimous and resist the advice of some in the US who will likely be calling for March 14 to spend more political capital than they actually have.

Personally, I’m glad to see a clear win for one side or the other, although I’m afraid of another national unity government that accords the opposition a veto. This, to my mind, is a recipe for further paralysis. The problem, however, is that not extending the offer for a March 8 veto could be seen as overplaying March 14’s hand, and depending on the program Hariri et al. would like to implement, it might raise tensions again or even lead to more civil conflict along the lines of what we saw last year in May.

At this point, though, there’s really not much to do except sit back and see how the cabinet shapes up and what the government will look like. About the cabinet, all I can say right now is that I hope President Sleiman insists on keeping Ziad Baroud in the government. If he doesn’t stay at the Ministry of the Interior, I’d like to see him at another important ministry, maybe something like Telecommunications. No matter where he is, though, he’s certain to do an excellent job.

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Responses

  1. agreed and agreed, especially about baroud!

    am worried he’ll be an early victim of the next round of politicking, despite his demonstrated competence and overwhelming popularity across the divide(s).

    baroud has been the great success story of the outgoing cabinet. wonder if it’s occurring to anyone that qualified technocrats and fresh faces might not be a bad idea in general? now i’m crossing into total fantasyland, but wouldn’t that be an interesting approach to the dilemma posed by the formation of the new govt?

    just about no one wants a return to the status quo of stalemate at best, strife at worst. so imagine if M14 said, you gave us a mandate and we’re going to use it to get the country in order (implicitly shelving the issue of the resistance, which would make hezbollah happy). divide the sovereign portfolios up with the premiership +2 to M14, 2 to M8 and 1 to president, then appoint independent technocrats in the rest of the spots.

    ah well… a girl can dream :)

  2. Thanks for stopping by, C. I’m really hoping that he gets to stick around with something more than the ministry of underwater basket weaving. (There are so many, it’s hard to keep track of all the names!)

    Only time will tell what the new government will look like, of course, but I’d be happy to see a technocratic one, although I doubt that’ll happen any time soon. Also, I’d love to see Berri get the boot, but I don’t think Hezbollah would accept to appoint someone from their party to be the speaker, and I doubt March 8 would accept a Hariri or even consensus appointment.

  3. Agreed. Baroud has been very transparent in all his work.


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