Lebanon wounded by personal ambition

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"Someone else is going to get killed soon," an old Lebanese friend said to me yesterday afternoon. And all the electoral victory of the Lebanese opposition was suddenly shadowed by the realities of this beautiful, dangerous country. Yes, why should Lebanon's enemies accept the reality of a parliament in which Syria has lost its power? First came ex-premier Rafik Hariri's assassination; then came journalist Samir Kassir's murder. Why should it stop now?

Hariri's son Saad boasted last night of his mass triumph in Sunday's north Lebanon election in which his list won all 28 seats, giving the Sunni-Druze Christian opposition a majority in the house. But ex-General Michel Aoun's party has already split the Christian vote - and did so with the help of pro-Syrian candidates. The President remains the totally pro-Syrian ex-General Emile Lahoud, and Hariri and Co have found no parliamentary way of easing him out of office.

Indeed, Mr Hariri's own advisers have been cautioning him about the temptation to take over his dead father's job of Prime Minister. Does he really want to sit down, they have been asking him, with the President whose Syrian friends are widely blamed in Lebanon for the killing of his own father? What if the UN commission investigating the assassination conclude that the Lebanese President was culpable?

He would discuss the question of the President, he said last night, when he had broadened his alliance in parliament. "I want a country that has a legal system that is free," Mr Hariri said. "Our victory was about my father, and we won in the north because people voted in a bloc for us - it's the first time they have ever done that in northern Lebanon - because they know that we will continue my father's work, that we want reforms and that we are against corruption. We will have no confessionalism."

But Lebanon's very definition is sectarian. And it's not as if the election was either scrupulous or fair. The EU's election observation mission has announced that the voting system should be overhauled, that there should be campaign finance regulations and that EU observers not only received a "substantial" number of allegations of vote-buying but also actually witnessed attempts at vote-buying. In 16 per cent of 1,000 monitored polling stations, voters with a voting card were turned away. The EU's mission did not understand why police and soldiers were not permitted to vote.

Some of the old names in Lebanese politics - Omar Karami, for example, and the young Sulieman Franjieh have lost their seats - have disappeared, while the name Hariri will once again appear among parliament's members.

The campaign, however, exacerbated sectarian feelings; Saad Hariri's campaign in northern Lebanon was regarded by many in Tripoli as an appeal to Muslims rather than the whole electorate, while the Christian victories in central Lebanon a week ago were fuelled by distrust of their old wartime Druze antagonists.

Yet for the first time we saw Lebanese Christian militiamen addressing their wartime enemies - and receiving their applause - while Walid Jumblatt could receive at his home the wife of the still jailed Lebanese Forces commander, another old nemesis for the Druze, at his home. Some wounds were healed, some reopened. And it may be that those who distrusted the opposition campaign - who believed Mr Aoun's condemnation of Saad Hariri and Walid Jumblatt as worse than the former head of Syrian intelligence - were frightened by his previous victories and voted for the opposition in the north.

Sulieman Franjieh's departure was certainly a shock for the Syrians. A close friend of the Syrian President, Bachar Assad, Mr Franjieh was clearly amazed at the loss of his seat. "We bow to the will of the people," he said - which is something the Lebanese parliament hasn't done in 30 years. But that all sides chose to make temporary alliances with other friends of Syria did not exactly enhance the public's trust in the country's political parties. The unity that was demonstrated in the million-strong demonstration that followed Rafik Hariri's murder was partly squandered by the politicians who, as usual in Lebanon, placed their personal power in front of the new political will that the nation had shown in March. And if the vote-buying was witnessed by the EU, there remain rumours aplenty that Saad Hariri's Future Movement assistants were generous to a man in rewarding voters in the north of Lebanon.

Perhaps the greatest casualty of this Lebanese election was the loss of Nassib Lahoud, a genuinely honest MP who might have been an alternative Christian presideZnt had Mr Aoun not outmanoeuvred him in the elections in central Lebanon just over a week ago. His experience and moderation has now been lost to parliament.

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