The parliamentary battle lines in Lebanon are being drawn during their multi-week, rolling election. Today, in the South Lebanon districts, the pro-Syrian factions Hezbollah and Amal swept to victory, capturing all twenty-three seats in a very low-turnout election. Although they’re unlikely to do well in any other regions of that war-torn and long-occupied country, these factions — especially the terrorist group Hezbollah — see their victory in the south as support for continuing their paramilitary role of “resistance,” though it’s unclear who or what they’re resisting: Israel? They pulled out in 2000, under peacenik Ehud Barak, the Israeli Jimmy Carter. Or does Hezbollah mean resistance against the nationalist, anti-Syrian majority of Lebanon itself?
AP’s article was clearly written before unofficial returns showed that Hezbollah/Amal did, in fact, sweep the seats:
Hezbollah Likely to Win Lebanon Elections
Jun 5, 3:59 PM (ET)
By HUSSEIN DAKROUB
BINT JBEIL, Lebanon (AP) – Hezbollah and its Shiite allies looked certain to capture all of southern Lebanon’s 23 parliamentary seats Sunday in the second stage of national elections, a vote the militant group hopes will send a message of defiance to the United States which brands it a terrorist organization.
To everybody’s great surprise, the Reuters article was considerably more triumphalist, crowing:
Hizbollah, allies win landslide in S.Lebanon polls
Jun 5, 4:21 PM (ET)
By Kamel Jaber
HOULA, Lebanon (Reuters) – Syria’s staunchest allies Hizbollah and Amal swept south Lebanon’s general elections on Sunday, in a crushing victory seen as a vote for anti-Israeli guerrillas to keep their weapons.
Official results were not due until Monday but the Amal-Hizbollah slate, dubbed the “steamroller,” claimed it had taken all 23 seats up for grabs in the south. Unofficial counts indicated the alliance had won more than 80 percent of votes.
Both AP and Reuters make clear what was the main (perhaps only) issue in the campaign.
Hezbollah hopes strong voter support will give it greater political influence to confront international pressure to disarm now that its Syrian backers have withdrawn from the country.
“The people’s participation in the elections is a vote for the resistance and its weapons,” said Hassan Fadlallah, a Hezbollah candidate allied with Amal.
Many in the Shi’ite Muslim heartland see a vote for Hizbollah as a vote for the group to retain its arms as a defense against neighboring Israel, which occupied the south for 22 years until its 2000 pullout….
Banners in many southern towns urged voters to choose the Amal-Hizbollah list as a rejection of international pressure to disarm the guerrilla group, whose attacks were instrumental in driving Israeli forces from southern Lebanon. [emphasis added by moi]
“Your vote is a bullet in the enemy’s chest,” read a banner in the mainly Sunni city of Sidon….
“I am going to vote for Hizbollah because they liberated the south. We owe them our blood,” said Zeinab Yasin in Houla.
Note that Reuters could not resist the temptation to spread the fraudulent meme that Israel was driven out of Lebanon by the heroic resistance of Hezbollah.
Historical detour: in reality, Israel quickly conquered all of southern Lebanon and could have taken the entire country, had they wanted to do; they held it as long as Likud was in power.
In 1999, however, the peacenik Israeli Labor Party ran Ehud Barak. Barak, in a campaign run by Clinton political apparatchiks James Carville, Robert Shrum and Stanley Greenberg, cruised to a 56% victory over Benjamin Netanyahu. Almost immediately, despite the fact that Hezbollah had not been able seriously to threaten the Israeli occupying force, Barak began to plan the pull-out from Lebanon.
When it came time for Barak to execute the pull out, however, rather than carry out the phased withdrawal that was originally intended, he inexplicably rushed the extraction… which caused it to resemble a rout, rather than a voluntary withdrawal. In fact, under Barak’s direct orders, the IDF departed so quickly they left armor behind; they actually had to send in warplanes to bomb their own abandoned tanks, lest Hezbollah become the unexpected recipients of a regiment of armored cavalry. It was unprecedented, unnecessary, and it unintentionally (?) gave the false impression that Israel had been cast out of Lebanon by the mighty Hezbollah militia — which in fact had nothing to do with the removal; it was driven entirely by internal Israeli politics.
But all that is spilt milk over the bridge. Back to the election story.
Even though the combined slate got “80 percent of the votes,” turnout itself was quite low, according to AP:
Although they were virtually assured of success, officials of Hezbollah and Amal made last-minute appeals Sunday to their voters to turn out in large numbers to send a strong signal to Washington.
But Amal and Hezbollah campaigners estimated voter turnout only at about 45 percent. Official results were not expected before Monday….
One reason for the lack of interest by some of the 665,000 eligible voters was that six of the 23 seats were uncontested because there were no major challengers.
Quelle surprise! When the heavily armed Hezbollah runs in Hezbollah space, how many seats do you imagine would be seriously contested? Besides the six that had only a single candidate, I imagine the other seats in the Shi’ite sections of the south were “contested” only in the loosest sense of the word. There was probably more anti-Syrian sentiment in the Sunni, Druze, and Christian neighborhoods… but after the car-bomb assassination of anti-Syrian journalist Samir Kassir in eastern Lebanon three days ago, I suspect opposition in the south was muted, to say the least.
In addition, there may have been some gerrymandering, according to the Reuters story:
Some Christian opposition politicians had called for an election boycott, complaining the shape of the districts made it difficult to challenge the Amal-Hizbollah slate.
In any event, the different regions of Lebanon are choosing up sides. The biggest topic of conversation when the new parliament convenes is almost guaranteed to be Hezbollah, and whether the Lebanese army will actually try forcibly to disarm them. Of course, if the Brits cannot even disarm the IRA, I’m not sanguine about the chances of the newly formed democratic government in Lebanon having much success with Hezbollah.
Perhaps they should invite the Israelis back, now that Barak and the Laborites are safely back in their box.