Analysis: Lebanon poll unites ex-rivals

BEIRUT, Lebanon — “It is very hard to accept. But if this is the price to protect Lebanon’s unity, I will vote for the Christian Lebanese Forces candidate though it is against my heart,” said Salah Haidar, a 45-year-old Druze from the Shouf Mountains.

Haidar, like many Druze and Sunni Muslims, has found it hard to accept that their leaders, in a last-minute compromise, included Christian candidates on their electoral lists. For them Christians symbolize the bloody 1975-90 civil war.

On Sunday, Druze leader Walid Jumblat announced that his eight-member list from the Shouf Mountains for the June 12 election will include George Adwan, a known member of the Lebanese Forces militia that battled Druze fighters in the “War of the Mountains” in 1983. 
Jumblat said Adwan’s selection did not only reflect an electoral alliance with the Lebanese Forces but also “an eagerness (to preserve) the big national reconciliation” that was achieved in 2001 when Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir visited the Druze-controlled Shouf Mountains region.

Haidar, who is loyal to the Druze leader, is not against the representation of the Lebanese Forces, but of Adwan in particular. 
“Adwan only reminds me of the time when the Lebanese Forces militia was in full collaboration with Israeli forces that harshly bombarded us during the (Israeli) occupation of Lebanon in 1982,” he said. 
Also Sunday, Saad Hariri, the son of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri who was slain Feb. 14, announced his electoral list. Hariri, who became the de facto Sunni leader after his father’s death, took his followers by surprise by selecting Solange Gemayel, the wife of Bashir Gemayel, leader of the Lebanese Forces who was assassinated in September 1982 less than a month after he was elected president and nine days before he was due to be sworn in. 
“It is hard to forget that Bashir Gemayel allied himself with the Israeli invading forces in 1982 and his militiamen helped the Israelis in besieging Beirut for 88 days at that time,” said Walid Anouti, a Sunni Muslim in Beirut. “Today, we have to accept his wife and elect her.” 
Lebanon’s general elections, which are to begin May 29, are the first since Syria ended its 30-year military presence in Lebanon last month. The run-up to the vote, even though it revived painful war memories, has brought former rivals together. The reason, as Saad Hariri said, was “national unity.” 
He urged his followers to vote for his list in full — in a clear hint not to drop Gemayel though she has already won the election after two Christian Maronite candidates running in Beirut withdrew. 
To the Christians, and particularly the Lebanese Forces, the new electoral alliances with Jumblat and Hariri were a long-awaited victory. 
Lebanese Forces political analyst Shawki Ashqouti said the alliance with Jumblat secured “a political return of the Lebanese Forces to the mountain after the 2001 reconciliation with Patriarch Sfeir.” 
“We are happy with this achievement. It is the first time that Jumblat recognizes the Lebanese Forces as a political party in the (mountain) region where most of the war blood was spilled,” he told United Press International. “It is an important development and the hope is to achieve much more in the future.” 
Such political alliances became possible after Syria’s withdrawal in a move that followed Hariri’s assassination. 
A political analyst in Beirut said it was normal to see such alliances among Jumblat, Hariri, Lebanese Forces and other Christian opposition groups that took part in the popular protests following Hariri’s killing. He explained that they all called for Syria’s withdrawal and forced the resignation of Prime Minister Omar Karami and of the heads of the security services. The groups, he noted, also pushed the government on conducting general elections. 
But once those goals were met, the opposition failed to preserve its unity and the election race forced them to forge new — probably temporary — electoral alliances. 
Former army commander Gen. Michel Aoun, an opposition figure who recently returned to Lebanon after nearly 15 years in exile in France, was left aside and so forced to look for alliances with other parties. 
The political analyst referred to “recent efforts by intelligence services to fuel sectarian divisions and let the Christians feel they will be dominated by the Muslims.” 
Jumblat’s and Hariri’s acceptance of the Christians was meant to assure them the Muslims would not monopolize the elections. 
Such a move, which put aside Christian and Muslim moderates, would not have been possible without direct intervention from the U.S. and French embassies — Lebanon’s new powerbrokers. 
“The elections are not the target but are the obligatory passageway for the new phase in Lebanon’s political history” wrote Talal Salman, publisher of As Safir newspaper, on his editorial page. “Lebanon is at the doorstep of a new phase which is totally different from what we have lived in the past 15 years” when the civil war ended in 1990 and consecrated Syria’s total influence on Lebanon. 
But Salman noted the new phase will be largely controlled “by the international decision which forced that the elections take place on time with a controversial election law and almost known results.” 
“The Lebanese will have to preserve their democratic system to proceed with the change. Otherwise, such a change will remain fragile,” the analyst noted. 
With the exception of south Lebanon where the main pro-Syrian Shiite groups, Hezbollah and Amal, will likely reaffirm their control, some new faces are expected to join the new parliament. 
“Any rapprochement between forces which were at war and on opposite political sides is good for Lebanon. But the real change comes with a new modern electoral law,” Marwan Abu Fadel, a moderate Christian, told UPI. “The new alliances are good in the surface but on the ground it could be a different case.”