Al-Ahram Weekly
7 - 13 September 2000
Issue No. 498
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A 'Future' premier

By Ranwa Yehia

The landslide victory of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri in the second round of parliamentary elections on Sunday makes it nearly certain that he will resume the premiership again, despite his apparent animosity towards Lebanese President Emile Lahoud.

Al-Hariri's Karama (Dignity) list won all 18 seats in the Lebanese capital Beirut, and, for the first time in the history of Lebanese elections, a prime minister lost his parliament seat while in office.

Publicly, Lahoud and Al-Hariri are playing by the rules. Just after the polls closed at 6.00pm Sunday, Lahoud praised the polling as an "example of democracy unmatched in the country's history."

Commenting on the next stage, in which 128 elected parliamentarians are constitutionally bound to hold consultations with the president to nominate a prime minister by mid-October, Lahoud said: "The parliamentary consultations should take place according to the constitution and the law which rule the country from top to bottom."

Observers characterise Lahoud's position as a carefully studied attempt to redress the political balance following the growing public antipathy towards the outgoing government of Prime Minister Selim Al-Hoss.

The relationship between Lahoud and Al-Hariri has been tense since the period when Lahoud was an army commander and Hariri prime minister. Following Lahoud's election 18 months ago, parliamentary consultations with the president took place to nominate a new prime minister. While Al-Hariri received enough nominations to become prime minister, he rejected it as a "constitutional violation" because many members of parliament (MPs) failed to name a candidate, leaving it to the president to make the choice.

Under the constitution and the 1989 Taif Agreement -- brokered by the United States, Saudi Arabia and Syria to end the bloody sectarian war -- the president must be a Maronite and his prime minister a Sunni Muslim, who should be named following the consultations with parliament.

Al-Hariri's refusal resulted in a new round of consultations which saw the nomination of Prime Minister Al-Hoss instead.

Al-Hariri's victory in Beirut, coupled with the strong support he enjoys among the newly elected MPs in the south and the Beqaa Valley as well as the resounding victories of opposition figures in Mount Lebanon and the north a week earlier, have given him considerable clout in parliament. Thus, when MPs start their consultation with Lahoud, most of them are expected to name Al-Hariri for premiership.

Casting his vote early Sunday in Beirut, Al-Hariri sought to play down the tension with Lahoud, saying: "I think the idea of whether we can coexist or not is not coming from President Lahoud." Hariri blamed the Al-Hoss's government for spreading such rumours.

In a news conference on Tuesday, Al-Hariri evaded the question on whether he will resume the post of prime minister. "No one has yet sought my advice on the matter of the premiership," he said. "It is a premature question which must be dealt with according to the constitution," he added. However, the influential politician said he would form a coalition of deputies spanning all regions and faiths in the country. He said he had "powerful allies," but refused to say how many deputies he could count on to back him.

Al-Hariri's victory not only showed his popularity, but also brought a surprise defeat of two main Sunni politicians who were zaims (community leaders), in the capital -- namely Prime Minister Al-Hoss and MP Tammam Salam. Hoss lost to Ghinwa Jalloul, the first woman to win a seat in the capital.

Rafik Al-Hariri
Former Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri is congratulated by his wife after a landslide victory in Sunday's parliamentary elections (photo: Reuters)
The defeat of both Hoss and Salam signifies the ousting of traditional families from the political scene and the emergence of Al-Hariri as Beirut's unrivaled zaim.

In a news conference on Monday, Al-Hoss admitted his defeat and even suggested shortening the period of parliamentary consultations with the president to form a new government immediately. The veteran politician who has served as prime minister several times, said the election was fair, "but I can't say it was democratic." He accused his rival, Hariri, of using his massive wealth as a construction tycoon to buy votes, claiming that the "political money" he spent in Beirut alone "was more than what was spent in American elections." He added that the election battle was "one of the dirtiest in the history of Lebanese politics." He added that Al-Hariri's control over influential television channels, namely Future Television, and newspapers was also used to influence voters.

However, some Lebanese analysts believe Al-Hoss lost elections due to the disappointment of voters in the results of his government's economic policies. Added to this, Al-Hoss failed to put into practice his pledges to fight corruption and create new jobs. Commentators also noted that Al-Hariri and those on his Karama list, are known to have good relations with Syria, the main power broker in Lebanon since the end of the civil war in 1990.

Observers regard Syria's lack of interference during the voting process as a sign that the neighbouring country, under its new president Bashar Al-Assad, is easing its hold on Lebanon's internal affairs.

This is the first election held in Lebanon since the end of Israel's 22-year occupation of the country's southern region and the death of Hafez Al-Assad, Syria's longtime president.

About 1 million out of 1.4 million eligible voters in the districts of Beirut, the south and the Beqaa Valley voted for some 259 candidates running for 65 seats on Sunday, the second and final round of parliamentary elections.

In liberated areas in the south , many residents gave their say in national politics for the first time since 1972, when the last parliamentary elections were held in that region. There were no elections in Lebanon during the 1975-90 civil war. During the 1992 and 1996 parliamentary elections, voters had to vote outside the border area because of the Israeli occupation.

Although, as expected, voting in the south was higher in Muslim villages than in Christian ones, many Christian voters were enthusiastic about becoming involved in politics again.

In Marjayoun, which is about 10 kilometres from the Israeli border, only 500 out of 8,000 eligible voters were issued voting cards.

The strong Hizbullah-Amal alliances in the south and the Beqaa Valley also achieved landslide victories. The alliance between the two Shi'ite parties who have been political rivals since Hizbullah was established in 1982, was urged by Syria to protect the standing of Amal leader and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a key Syrian ally.

Observers believe that without such an alliance, Hizbullah, which is greatly favoured among southerners for its role in ending the Israeli occupation, would have received the majority of votes. Such an outcome would have weakened Berri's position. In accordance with the alliance, Hizbullah agreed that it would take only 12 seats nationwide, far fewer than it was predicted to have received had it been in direct competition with Amal. Prior to elections Hizbullah held nine seats.


Related stories:
A lighter Syrian shadow 31 August - 6 September 2000
Uneasy bedfellows 31 August - 6 September 2000
Lebanese politics "revive" at fever pitch 24 - 30 August 2000

 

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