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Hezbollah, Christians set to lose out in Leba -

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Hezbollah, Christians set to lose out in Lebanon election

The World Today - Monday, 8 June , 2009 12:31:00

Reporter: Anne Barker

PETER CAVE: The official result in Lebanon's elections won't be announced until later this evening
Australian time, but all sides have conceded that it will be a victory for the anti-Syrian
coalition led by Saad al-Hariri.

His supporters are expected to take at least 70 of the assembly's 128 seats.

It's a defeat for Hezbollah as well as for its main Christian allies led by Michel Aoun, who has
the backing of Syria and Iran.

Our Middle East correspondent, Anne Barker, is in the capital Beirut.

ANNE BARKER: Look, I think the way people are reading this is that it is very much a stand against
some of the foreign influences that have played a part in Lebanon in recent years. Particularly in
recent times, Syria and Iran, which are seen as the backers of the Opposition.

Iran particularly is perceived to be the main funder of the Hezbollah militant group, and the
Christian groups within the Opposition coalition are seen as very much pro-Syrian, pro-Iranian. And
the Government, which has been re-elected, is very much anti-Syrian and pro-West.

So that is very much the message that we're getting; that Lebanese voters - particularly the
Christians, who really swing the vote in this - have made a decision that they support the
incumbent government, and they want to make a stand for Lebanon's sovereignty if you like, its
independence against some of those outside influences.

PETER CAVE: But yet it is a defeat for Michel Aoun.

ANNE BARKER: It is, and he's regarded as a maverick politician here, because he was once seen as
anti-Syrian, and played a part in the other alliance, which is in government.

And then a while ago, switched sides and became part of the Opposition, who's now supposedly

So, that obviously must have been an influence as well in this. He's the one, or his party is the
one that's perhaps lost the most votes for the Opposition, and you have to ask whether it was
because he has switched sides himself in that sense, and perhaps is seen as inconsistent

PETER CAVE: Is this defeat for Hezbollah and their allies in any way going to diminish their
influence in Lebanese society and politics?

ANNE BARKER: Well no, not at all. I mean, it's not Hezbollah who's lost this election for the

They had 11 seats in Parliament before, and at least one spot on the Cabinet. They still have, as
far as I'm aware, 11 seats in Parliament still. But that's only a fraction of the 128 seats in the

The important thing is that their real strength comes from their membership base. I mean, the
figures are rubbery, as you would expect for an organisation like Hezbollah, but the suggestions
are that there are hundreds of thousands of members.

They're a guerrilla group effectively, as a lot of people would say, that operate in the south of
Lebanon, and you know, their real strength is they're seen as militarily more powerful than the
Lebanese state.

So really, they were always going to play a much lesser role in Parliament if they had won a
majority in their own right. But the standing they have outside Parliament as that militant force
will not change at all.

PETER CAVE: Lebanon is never very far from civil war; it came close last year. Is this election
result going to do anything for the stability of the country?

ANNE BARKER: Well, I guess anything that returns the incumbent government; you can expect the
status quo to continue. It's been relatively calm for the last 12 months, since a national unity
government was installed.

And in fact, that's the expectation again. That the, even though the March 14th group, as it's
called, the incumbent coalition has regained power. They are expected to offer to share power again
with the Opposition through a government of national unity.

And that was brought about very much as a way of avoiding some of the violence we've seen in recent
years, particularly a year ago, when Hezbollah took over part of western Beirut.

And look, it's also a reflection of the fact the Lebanese do want to keep some of those outside
influences, as I said, out of the country, and they were forces that really did drive a wedge
between a lot of Lebanese.

PETER CAVE: What part has vote-buying had in this election?

ANNE BARKER: Well, there are suggestions that literally thousands of votes have been bought; not
just in Lebanon, but particularly overseas, where some people say the Lebanese diaspora in
countries like Australia, the US and so on, is 14 million, compared to only three or four million
in the country, although that's probably an exaggeration.

But a lot of those Lebanese overseas are entitled to vote here; they're still on the electoral
roll, in fact, 10 or 20 years after leaving the country.

And there are suggestions that several thousand Australians alone have come back to Lebanon to
vote. Some of them may have been given free tickets from either side of politics. There's been a
lot of money spent in this election buying votes.

But a lot of Australians have returned to Lebanon to live, so there is a huge Australian presence
here - whether it's been people who've come back to vote or live here.

And I think that, the word I'm getting is that a lot of those outside Lebanese who've come home to
vote have in fact swung the result.

PETER CAVE: Our Middle East correspondent, Anne Barker.