Ruling coalition in Lebanon clings to majority in election

The ruling coalition in Lebanon has won a majority in the national election, fending off a strong challenge from Hezbollah and its allies, according to an official tally released Monday.
Lebanese Sunni Muslim pro-Western supporters celebrate after the polling stations closed, in the Sunni stronghold of Tarik Jadideh, in Beirut on Sunday. ((Hussein Malla/Associated Press))

The ruling coalition in Lebanon has won a majority in the national election, fending off a strong challenge from Hezbollah and its allies, according to an official tally released Monday.

The count of Interior Minister Ziad Baroud, who read the returns from all 26 districts, had Saad Hariri's pro-Western Future Movement coalition winning 68 seats of the 128-member legislature in Sunday's balloting. The Hezbollah-led alliance claimed 57 seats, while three seats went to independents.

The final results confirm similar, preliminary reports. Even before the results were made official, supporters of the ruling bloc were celebrating by setting off fireworks, dancing in the streets and driving around in motorcades.

Turnout for the election stood at 52.3 per cent, up from 45.8 per cent in 2005.

Hezbollah — considered a terrorist organization by several Western governments, including Canada and the United States — has not officially conceded yet. Its leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, will speak late Monday, according to the party's television station.

But Michel Aoun, the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, Hezbollah's primary coalition partner, conceded defeat Monday.

Decisive victory

"We have been told over and over again by so many people that the margin of victory was going to be so razor-thin," said CBC News' Peter Armstrong, reporting from Beirut.

"At the end of the day it actually ended up proving to be a decisive victory for the Western-backed coalition."

Some observers had expected the Hezbollah-led coalition would prevail in the vote.

The prospect of a win by the Hezbollah bloc had caused significant hand-wringing among Western governments, particularly the United States. Vice-President Joe Biden said the U.S. would consider revoking aid to Lebanon in the event of a vote for the Hezbollah coalition.

In this photo released by Lebanon's official government photographer, Dalati Nohra, Saad Hariri, the Lebanese leader of the pro-Western coalition, left, hugs candidate Nohad Mashnouk in Beirut early Monday. ((Dalati Nohra/Associated Press))

Supporters of the Future Movement galvanized for the vote by flying in large numbers of expatriate Lebanese citizens from around the world.

Corporate sponsors paid for hundreds of supporters of the pro-Western Future Movement in Calgary and in other Canadian cities to fly to Lebanon last week in order to cast their ballots.

Dual citizens must be physically present in Lebanon to cast a ballot in its elections.

"There [are] sponsors in the world who [pay] for those tickets … European companies, Middle Eastern companies who … they would love to see free Lebanon, independent Lebanon," Faouzi Salem, a Future Movement co-ordinator in Calgary, told CBC News in an interview last week.

The majority of the 1.5 million people that left Lebanon in the last 30 years — including during the civil war from 1976 to 1990 — and immigrated to Canada, the United States and Australia oppose Hezbollah, which is why there's such an effort to have their votes counted, said Elias Bejjani, chairman of the Lebanese Canadian Co-ordinating Council in Toronto.

Post-election dynamics

Legislators will now have to come together to form a national unity government, said Armstrong.

The seat allocation is almost unchanged from the outgoing legislature, ensuring that the same disputes will continue.

Hezbollah had veto power in Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's cabinet for the last year, which it won after provoking the worst street clashes since the civil war, which raged from 1975 to 1990. The pro-Western coalition had vowed not to give Hezbollah and its allies a blocking minority in the new government if they won.

Hariri said early Monday in a televised speech that he extends his hand to the losing side "to work together and seriously for the sake of Lebanon."

He urged supporters to celebrate without provoking opponents.

With files from The Associated Press