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Gauging Hezbollah After the Vote

Lebanon's Western-backed "March 14" bloc appears to have defeated an opposition bloc led by Hezbollah in a much-anticipated electoral showdown, retaining its parliamentary majority. The result, in which March 14 reportedly won sixty-eight to seventy seats in the 128-seat parliament, gave some Western analysts hope that the influence of Hezbollah, and its Iranian and Syrian patrons, has suffered a blow. Among other problems, a Hezbollah victory would have jeopardized Lebanese cooperation with an international tribunal investigating the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Analysis in a front-page Wall Street Journalreport concluded:  "The push back of Hezbollah is seen as providing President Barack Obama more diplomatic space to pursue his high-profile Arab-Israeli peace initiative. It could also lend Mr. Obama more time to pursue his diplomatic outreach toward Tehran."

Yet the leader of the March 14 bloc, Saad Hariri, Rafik's son, must still work to form a government. Both Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement, an influential party led by former army chief Michel Aoun, have indicated that they would like to join a unity government with Hariri's supporters. Several days ahead of the vote the Washington Institute's David Schenker anticipated that the domestic status quo would continue even if the Western-backed coalition won. He wrote: "[A] pro-West majority would still be limited in its ability to effect policy changes by virtue of the opposition's "blocking third" in the cabinet and its military prowess. (March 14 maintains that following the elections, the Doha Agreement, which mandated the blocking-third arrangement, will be void, but [Hezbollah] is sure to protest.)"

Reuters has a feature outlining the reaction of different Lebanese political leaders to the reported results.

Analysis:

Mideast expert Paul Salem of the Carnegie Endowment writes in Foreign Policy that losing...

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