Before last night’s Lebanese election results started pouring in, I had been mentally penning a ‘morning after’ post entitled “Anatomy of a Defeat”, in which I would attempt to put my finger on exactly what it was that led to the undoing of the March 14 movement over the past couple of years. As anyone who regularly reads this blog could surmise, I was one of the many who suspected that the opposition would win this election. I count myself in good company: every major pollster was projecting a narrow opposition win, and even March 14 stalwarts had expressed their frustration with the movement’s seeming aimlessness over the past few months. All signs seemed to point to an FPM-Hizbullah win.
And now this. Lebanon never fails to surprise.
The blogosphere is already buzzing with interpretations of M14′s electoral victory. Abu Muqawama (Andrew Exum) attributes it to a combination of Christian animosity towards Hizbullah for its takeover of West Beirut last year; Saudi money; and a few well-placed words by the Maronite patriarch a couple of days before the election. Robert Satloff, writing at MESH, says that Joe Biden was the real hero, sweeping into Beirut to remind voters of the consequences for Lebanon’s alliance with the U.S. if Hizbullah and its allies won, with the result that Christian voters “cast their ballots in droves for candidates opposed to the Hezbollah-backed alliance.”
Foreign Policy‘s Blake Hounshell disagrees, saying:
I hate to burst the bubble, but there’s simply no evidence yet that Obama had any impact on the outcome. As Paul Salem explained Friday for FP, there were plenty of indications – such as the fact that it only ran 11 candidates — that Hezbollah didn’t really want to win and give up its cozy seat in the opposition. And further, it was Hezbollah’s coalition partner, the mostly Christian Free Patriotic Movement, that seems to have underperformed expectations.
This debate will continue over the coming weeks, as more numbers come in (although, who trusts a pollster anymore?). In the meantime, here are some thoughts. I know that many in the opposition are going to start blaming the Maronite patriarch for their loss — as he issued a statement a couple of days before the election which seemed to chide Lebanese Christians into voting for March 14. But when we consider the fact that the FPM performed very well in the Maronite heartland — with sweeps in Kisrawan, Jbeil, Baabda, Zgharta, and a strong showing in the Metn — I’m not so sure that this explanation holds much water.
Far more decisive, in my opinion, seems to have been: (1) the high turnout of Sunnis in Zahle — many of whom came from abroad — coupled with a low turnout of Christians; (2) strong feelings of antipathy towards Hizbullah by the Christians of Beirut who voted decisively for March 14th’s list in the district of Achrafieh; (3) some rare rhetorical blunders by Nasrallah in the past couple of weeks, calling the events of May 7th “a glorious day” for the resistance.