Lebanese Election / New Parliament, Old Policy

Six years ago, exiled Lebanese General Michel Aoun told Haaretz in an interview in Paris, where he was living, that he saw Syria as "the dragon from the myth that demands a young girl every morning as a sacrifice." Aoun added that "until a Middle Eastern St. George comes to slay the dragon, the situation will go on."

When Aoun returned last month to Lebanon after 15 years in exile, one thing became clear: St. George he isn't. In the election campaign, the last round of which ended yesterday, Michel Aoun revealed himself to be a professional opportunist. The man who for many Lebanese symbolized opposition to the Syrian control over Lebanon has suddenly built an impressive coalition with supporters of Syria. It is still unclear whether the pro-Syrian camp has won the election and will be forming the next coalition, or whether they will be forming an opposition that will bedevil Sa'ad Hariri.

But with Aoun's aspirations and "flexibility," Hariri can enjoy the best of both worlds. If Hariri wins, Aoun might bolt from the pro-Syrian ranks to Hariri's side to win an influential appointment, even the presidency. If Aoun wins, he will still need political calm, and he may therefore invite Hariri to join a national unity government.

The strange coalitions revealed during elections between past and present supporters of Syria, between some Druze and some Christians, the Christian right and Sunni Muslims, and some Shi'ites and other Druze, attest more than anything else to the fact that Lebanon's politics, in spite of the tremendous achievement of Syria's removal, still suffers from chronic malaise. The main question is to what extent the new government and parliament can withstand external pressure as it continues to implement UN Resolution 1559 to oust Syria from Lebanon.

With the Shi'ite bloc and Hezbollah holding 35 seats, both Aoun and Hariri will need extraordinary political virtuosity to convince Hezbollah to disarm. And since whoever wins does not hold a convincing majority, any external pressure will push political rivals into each other's arms in order not to appear to have buckled under international pressure. Under such conditions, Syria will apparently be able to continue exerting its influence in Lebanon, since after its withdrawal, no one can demand that it disarm Hezbollah. That's Lebanon's job now.