By Brooke Anderson, JEZZINE, Lebanon (CNS) — Sitting at an outdoor cafe on a mild spring afternoon, overlooking the town square of Jezzine, Samaan Dahir felt optimistic about Lebanon’s June 7 parliamentary elections. "The resistance needs to win," said Dahir, referring to the so-called March 8 coalition led by Hezbollah, the Shiite political party credited for liberating South Lebanon from 18 years of Israeli occupation and subsequently helping to rebuild the war-torn region. "Let’s give the opposition a chance and see the how they implement their reform programs. I’m definitely for March 8. I’m for change." Dahir, a Maronite Catholic from Jezzine, is optimistic about the election and is happy that the campaign appears to be giving more of a voice to Christians than in previous years.

The incumbent pro-Western March 14 coalition is composed by the Mustaqbal (Future) movement, made up mainly of Sunnis, but also various Christian groups (Lebanese Forces, Kataeb, Liberal Party, Quornet Chehwane, indpendants) and PSP . The opposition, is composed by Hezbollah,the Free Patriotic Movement of Maronite Catholic Michel Aoun, a retired army general, AMAL, MARADA, Tadamon and Democratic Party led by Arslan and other independants and smaller parties.

Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, compared the importance of Lebanon’s Christian voters to a swing state in a U.S. election."It’s an unintended consequence of the process," said Salem. "It doesn’t mean Ohio is the most important state or Christians in Lebanon are more important."

For Lebanon’s "swing voters" — Christians in this case — it is their chance to get attention that larger communities tend to enjoy.

"It is a positive thing when any minority communities are focused on, competed over, etc. This is good for democracy and good for protecting against the excesses of majority rule," said Beirut-based political analyst Nicholas Noe. "Of course the Arabs would be stronger if they were unified; of course the Americans would be stronger in the world if they were not split into Democrats and Republicans. But divisions are sometimes the reflection of legitimate differences in interests, and that is what is happening in Lebanon."

The incumbent March 14 coalition is supported by the United States and Saudi Arabia, while March 8, the opposition, is backed by Iran and Syria.

Ronald Sayegh, a Maronite Catholic from Beirut who works at a ski resort, said he thinks the division of Christians into two coalitions is "good and enriching for both. Let the majority win, except that Lebanon is not based on a true democracy, unfortunately."

Lebanon’s Constitution mandates the president must be a Maronite Catholic, the prime minister a Sunni and the speaker of parliament a Shiite.

"Christians have been major drivers behind Lebanon and the country would have a different image without them," Sayegh said. "So being on one side or another makes a big difference for their allies. Today, the most uncertain battle falls within the Christian territory."

As a result of the 2008 agreement among Lebanese factions that met in Doha, Qatar, the electoral map was redrawn to create smaller constituencies, which means Christian candidates do not have to rely so much on Muslim voters.

"Before, Christians weren’t voting for their representatives, and there were more Shiite voices," Sayegh said. "Now, Christians are voting for their own representatives."

But not all are happy about the political divisions among Lebanese Christians.

"No matter what happens, the Christians are going to be the biggest losers," said Habib Karam, a Maronite Catholic originally from Jezzine, who works as an airline captain based in Beirut.

"In Lebanon, we’re in a country where politics is based on religion. If someone wants to talk to Christians, who do they talk to? I’d rather see Christians in one big block, like the Sunnis, the Druze and the Shiites. The country will never move forward unless the four largest groups can talk. There’s no one to speak for the Christians," he said.

Karam said he does not favor one particular coalition, but plans to vote for the best representatives from both groups, noting that, "in Lebanon, it’s not strictly March 8 and March 14. You can vote for the individual candidates."

Maronite Father Tony Rouhayem, based in Jezzine, said he hopes that Lebanon’s elections "can be an example of people living together."

Similarly, for March 14 supporter Eli Khoury, a Maronite Catholic and CEO of an international advertising firm, the political split among Christians can be seen as a sign of progress.

"Today, it is only normal that Christians have different opinions," Khoury said. "In fact, some here say they wished other communities were behaving the same way."