The first round of voting in Lebanon’s elections has exposed the reality behind the “new dawn for democracy” in the Middle East.
Only 27 percent of potential voters cast their ballot, and the parties hailed for leading the “cedar revolution” against Syrian occupation earlier this year stitched up the seats in the capital, Beirut.
The electoral list headed by Saadeddine Hariri, son of assassinated former prime minister Rafiq Hariri, swept the board.
On the surface the elections appeared to be the best organised in Lebanon’s history. The policemen were polite, polling stations were well equipped and the world media was out in force. The EU deployed 150 observers. The US ambassador held a luncheon in honour of the leaders of the “cedar revolution”.
Syria had almost no influence in the elections. With its secret service gone, some hoped that the activists who had suffered from the Lebanese/Syrian forces would be able to make their voices heard. Some hoped women would be elected.
Those running the country thought otherwise. The US and French embassies held meetings to convince members of the anti-Syrian opposition to join Hariri’s list.
This list included former warlord Walid Jumblatt; Solange Gemayyel, the widow of a pro-Israeli warlord; and Gibran Tueni, famous for calling Muslims “sheep” during a rally last March.
Gemayyel and eight other members of the Hariri list were elected uncontested after opponents were “warned off”. She believes that this is a mandate for her slogan, “On with the march against strangers.” The “march” has led to the murder of up to 40 Syrian workers since the “cedar revolution”.
In the remaining ten seats there was little competition, with the exception of left wing challenge of Najaf Wakim, who received a third of the votes in west Beirut.
People running against the Hariri list were denounced by the media as conspirators in the assassination of his father. In a country where class and sectarian polarisation is extreme, accusations can be followed by action. A few hours after the polls closed, supporters of Hariri and Jumblatt opened fire on the offices of Wakim’s secular People’s Movement.
The next rounds of voting will take place over the next few weeks. The stitch-up in Beirut is set to be repeated across the country.