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Lebanon's ruling coalition wins unexpected victory

US-backed March 14 holds on to parliamentary majority, defeating Hezbollah.

A flag-waving supporter of Christian politician Samir Geagea and his "March 14" coalition celebrates after the coalition won in Lebanon's parliamentary election, June 7, 2009. An anti-Syrian coalition, known as "March 14", defeated the "March 8" alliance composed of Hezbollah and its allies in Lebanon's parliamentary election on Sunday, politicians on both sides said. (Steve Crisp/Reuters)

BEIRUT — America’s allies in Lebanon have defied predictions in elections that reaffirmed the coalition's popularity after four tumultuous years in power.

The March 14 coalition — an assortment of Sunni Muslim, Christian and Druze parties that staged demonstrations in 2005 to eject Syria from Lebanon after a nearly 30-year presence — won a majority in Sunday’s parliamentary elections, securing 71 of a possible 128 seats.

The election results mean a defeat for the March 8 coalition that includes the Iranian-backed Islamist group, Hezbollah, and Christian leader Michel Aoun.

March 14 leader and current parliamentary majority head Saad Hariri struck a conciliatory note Monday morning as he spoke to supporters.

“These elections have no winner or loser because the only winner is democracy, and the biggest winner is Lebanon,” Hariri said.

As results flowed in from Lebanon’s 26 electoral districts through the night and early into the morning, March 14 supporters in Beirut and around Lebanon set off fireworks and drove in convoys honking horns and waving flags to celebrate their victory.

Monday’s results reaffirm the commitment of Lebanon’s electorate to March 14’s current parliamentary majority, despite having seen Lebanon suffer through a war between Hezbollah and Israel and a confrontation with Hezbollah that forced the ruling coalition to cede veto power in the cabinet to March 8.

Many voters around the country considered the vote to be a referendum on Hezbollah’s militia and the group’s relationship to Iran and Syria. Hezbollah has long maintained it needs its military wing and weapons to defend against Israeli attacks. The March 14 alliance says those weapons cause and invite more attacks than what they defend against.

Most Shiite voters support Hezbollah and its allies, and in the 2005 parliamentary elections Christians were largely split between March 14 and Aoun’s alliance with Hezbollah. This year, with the rest of the electorate already firmly committed to one coalition or the other, Christians became the swing vote, and the seats in their areas were up for grabs.

The result showed most Christians weren’t convinced by Hezbollah’s argument as to why it needed its weapons or its reasons for taking over west Beirut last year. Those opinions swung the vote away from Aoun.

“If the 8th of March wins, there will be a siege on Lebanon like what happened in Gaza, because Hezbollah is a terrorist group, and Iran is a terrorist country,” said voter Rabieh Shakeeya after voting in yesterday’s polls in the tightly contested district of Zahle, which March 14 won. “[March 8] is working for Syria and Iran,” Shakeeya said.