Lebanon reaffirms its faith in democracy

Oh how happy the Americans must be. The majority in Lebanon remains the majority, and the minority – including the horrific, "terrorist" Hizbollah – remains the minority. It's pretty much a repeat performance. In the last tumultuous Lebanese parliament, Saad Hariri's parties held 70 seats against the opposition's 58. Now they hold 68 against 57. So all the old problems will recur. Does Hizbollah have a veto over cabinet decisions, as it did under the Qatar agreement? Will there be a "national unity" coalition?

The one good thing about Lebanon's elections is that the Lebanese voted – 68 per cent of the people of Sidon actually went to the polling booths on Sunday – and they didn't produce the infantile 99.97 per cent results of the regional dictatorships. Despite whinges about vote-rigging in the Syrian press, the elections were more or less fair. The only question is whether Saad Hariri will become prime minister like his father who – no longer in power – was assassinated along with 22 others on St Valentine's Day of 2005.

It should be said that Saad Hariri himself – not to mention the Americans and the French – feared that Hizbollah and its allies would win a clear mandate, allowing the Israelis to declare Lebanon a "terrorist state". They may do that anyway, once the President invites Hizbollah into the cabinet – there will, in the end, have to be a coalition – but, reflecting on the election, many Lebanese put the blame for Hizbollah's failure squarely on its chairman, Sayed Hassan Nasrallah.

Nasrallah it was who just a couple of weeks ago declared last year's armed takeover of west Beirut a "glorious day" – "yom majid", in Arabic – and this frightened many Lebanese. Dozens of men – along with the usual clutch of women and children – were killed in this awful 24-hour period and voters wanted to make sure they didn't have to endure any more such "glorious days". This – rather than the eloquence of Hariri (sadly lacking, one might add) – probably maintained the "pro-Western" majority in parliament.

Now the President – ex-General Michel Sleiman – will have to fashion some kind of workable administration to run a country whose political system doesn't work. Nasrallah himself was due to speak publicly in Lebanon last night and was no doubt planning to blame the Americans for his political failure. And it's true that Joe Biden and Madeleine Albright and Hillary Clinton had all warned Lebanon would suffer if Hizbollah were successful.

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.

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