Lebanon's Christians emerged yesterday from a by-election split
down the middle after opposition leader Michel Aoun's candidate
narrowly beat former President Amin Gemayel, a pillar of the
Both sides took comfort from Sunday's contest in the Metn area
north of Beirut, but the outcome offered no clear pointers to the
forthcoming presidential election or a way out of a 9-month-old
deadlock paralyzing Lebanon's ruling institutions.
"It does not close the house of Gemayel or deliver Aoun to the
presidency," political analyst Samir Constantine said.
Aoun is the only declared candidate for president, always a
Maronite Christian under the sectarian power-sharing system.
Choosing a successor to pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud is the
next political battle for the anti-Syrian forces behind Prime
Minister Fouad Siniora and the opposition that groups Aoun with
Hezbollah and Amal, Shi'ite factions backed by Damascus.
The ruling coalition's majority in parliament fell to 69 in the
128-seat assembly after the Metn election. A pro-government
candidate easily won another by-election on Sunday.
"The Metn elections ended politically without a victor and a
vanquished. There was a loser, but there was no winner," said
former Prime Minister Selim al-Hoss, a Sunni elder statesman.
"If the contest was a contest of sizes, then both competitors
were effectively down-sized."
Aoun's candidate, Camille Khoury, took the seat by 418 votes out
of about 79,000 cast, but that margin undermined the former
general's claim - based on the results of parliamentary elections
in 2005 - to enjoy 70 percent Christian support.
"They just can't beat me," said Aoun after the result.
Gemayel, who contested a seat that fell vacant when his son
Pierre was assassinated in November, said his strong showing gave
him a mandate to continue his anti-Syrian path.
"The battle for sovereignty and independence is not over yet," he
told a news conference.
He called on various Christian leaders to agree on a joint
candidate for the presidency. "There should be an understanding on
the presidential election as soon as possible."
Gemayel ran an emotional campaign in which he accused Aoun of
seeking a return of Syrian tutelage.
But the dent in Aoun's popularity, perhaps due to Christian
dismay at the accord he forged with Hezbollah in 2006, is small
comfort for the defeat Gemayel suffered in his own backyard.
Gemayel leads the Phalange Party founded by his father Pierre in
the 1930s. Its Maronite militia played a major role in Lebanon's
1975-90 civil war, but the party is now aligned with anti-Syrian
Sunni, Druze and Christian factions led by the son of assassinated
former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.
(China Daily via agencies August 7, 2007)