Moment of truth: the surprise victory of the pro-western March 14 Alliance in Lebanon's parliamentary elections signals a triumph for moderation over extremism in the Middle East. But the country remains in peril.

Author:Blanche, Ed

Saad Hariri and the political alliance he leads may well have won an unexpected victory in Lebanon's high-stakes parliamentary elections on 7 June, dealing a serious setback to Hizbullah, Iran and Syria. But his troubles are only just beginning.

Lebanon, with its plethora of rival sects, all manipulated to one extent or another by outside powers, remains dangerously polarised. Hariri's March 14 Alliance--named after the day in 2005 when a million-strong demonstration took to the streets in Beirut following the 14 February assassination of Hariri's father, Rafiq, and demanded an end to Syria's quasi-occupation of Lebanon--took 71 of the 128 seats in parliament.

That was only one more than it had in the outgoing parliament. The opposition March 8 Coalition headed by Hizbullah, took 57--one less than it had before. So not a lot has changed--certainly not the deep-rooted rivalry between the two multiconfessional alliances, with March 14 backed by the United States and March 8 (named after its massive pro-Syrian rally following Rafiq Hariri's murder) by Iran and Syria.

"The moment of truth is now," said political analyst Karim Makdisi.

Hariri, a billionaire tycoon, was catapulted into the maelstrom of Lebanese politics after his father's assassination in a massive bombing in central Beirut. Syria has been widely blamed for that, although it has repeatedly denied any involvement. Despite a major triumph for anti-Syrian factions in the 2005 elections, largely due to a massive backlash over the St Valentine's Day assassination, Hariri, the political novice, shunned the premiership.

Now a more seasoned campaigner who led the populist March 14 to an unexpected victory at the polls, he is widely tipped as the next premier. If he takes the job, he will have to tackle immense political, economic and social problems at home as well as wider geopolitical problems that plague the Middle East.

Arguably the most bitter issue for him personally is how to balance his passion to bring those responsible for killing his father to justice before a special United Nations-mandated tribunal established in The Hague on 1 March, and healing a sharply divided nation that has long been the plaything of greater powers. Pursuing the culprits, whoever they may be, carries the danger of endless feuding with Syria that would only intensify Lebanon's sectarian rivalries at a time when unity is urgently needed.

Hizbullah, and its patrons in Tehran and Damascus, remains the most...

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