Lebanon Election (Part B)
At the core of the anti-Syrian coalition that's set to dominate the new parliament, is the Druze leader Walid Jumblatt. Like his political partner Saad al-Hariri, he too is nursing a bitter grudge against the Syrians. In 1977, his father Kamal, who was a socialist and philosopher as well as the feudal leader of the Druze, fell out with Damascus. He died in a well-organised ambush in the Shouf mountains. Walid inherited his political mantle, but for many years -- including long periods of close alliance with Syria -- he kept quiet about who he believed killed his father. Now, he openly accuses Damascus.
The Syrian withdrawal and all its repercussions have of course brought about a sea-change in the Lebanese political climate, the new Lebanese parliament is expected to have an anti-Syrian majority, though Syrian influence will not be completely excluded.
But anyone who's expecting to see a sea of new FACES as a result of all this change, is going to be disappointed. It was yet another candidate son of a slain father -- Sulaiman Franjieh, whose father Tony was killed by a rival Maronite Christian militia in 1978 -- who put his finger on it. He said, Lebanon's the only country, where politics can turn 180 degrees, but the politicians stay the same.
The same political clans and party bosses who've been dominating the country's politics for decades, have ensured their survival by doing electoral deals with one another to reduce or even eliminate competition. They'll continue to predominate in the new parliament, as they did in the previous one, but under different colours. Rafiq al-Hariri himself, and Walid Jumblatt, and others, were all considered pro-Syrian at the time of the last election in the year 2000. Now times have changed, the mood has changed, but the players largely have not.
The only real note of friction and competition has been introduced by the maverick former general, Michel Aoun, who returned recently from 15 years in exile. He at least has consistently opposed the Syrians from start to finish. But he's been unable to blend in with the other factions in the former opposition, so he'll be battling with them at the polls in the same central mountains where in the late 80s he was battling with them with guns.
But otherwise, in most areas, these first Syria-free elections for over thirty years, have been a disappointing stitch-up. That's one reason why they've stirred so little genuine enthusiasm among many ordinary people here. They know the basic situation's changed with the Syrian withdrawal, but they can't see much actual difference. Maybe once the new parliament's in place and pushing for change -- not least amending a Syrian-engineered election law that moved constituency boundaries so that Christian deputies were being elected mainly by Muslims -- things will start to feel different. But the Lebanese are lumbered with a highly-sectarian political system which makes it hard for people to feel this is real democracy, that their voice is really being heard, that their votes can really make a difference. And there's little prospect at the moment, for any radical change to that.