Despite polls predicting a Hizballah victory, Lebanese voters rejected the Shi'ite radical group and its political allies at the ballot box Sunday. In the new Lebanese Parliament, the moderate March 14 movement, which governs Lebanon today, will likely have 71 seats compared to 57 for the Hizballah-led March 8 organization. This is nearly identical to the breakdown in the current Parliament, where the March 14 bloc headed by Sunni Muslim businessman Sa'ad Hariri holds 70 seats.
The biggest loser in the election was former Gen. Michel Aoun, whose Free Democratic Party is Hizballah's Christian junior partner in the March 8 group. Aoun, who was driven into exile in 1990 after leading a failed rebellion against Syria, returned to Lebanon in 2005 and became a political ally of Syria and Hizballah.
With Druze and Sunni Muslims breaking decisively for the March 14 movement, and Shi'ite voters supporting candidates from Hizballah and the pro-Syrian Amal movement, both sides courted Christian voters. Many of these Christians proved reluctant to vote for candidates aligned with Hizballah, who they blame for dragging them into war with Israel.
Similarly, many of these Christian voters were bothered by Hizballah's violent reaction in May 2008 to Lebanese Cabinet decisions outlawing its military communications network and removing a Hizballah ally serving as Beirut Airport's security chief. Hizballah forces blockaded parliament, and 11 Lebanese died in close to a week of factional fighting in Beirut. The Lebanese government capitulated to Hizballah and rescinded the decisions.
On Monday, one day after his electoral defeat, Hizballah boss Hassan Nasrallah declared that the group would not disarm. He suggested that critics were using "fears, threats and lies" in criticizing Hizballah and stated:
"The people who voted for us have shown that supporting the Resistance is a popular choice, especially in the regions that are under constant threat. The arms of the people are not up for discussion. They are present because of the people's will."
Hizballah's defiance creates a huge problem for Hariri, who will likely become Lebanon's next prime minister in the coming months. He has two choices: 1) risk a political crisis by defying his supporters who consider Hizballah a threat and want it disarmed; 2) risk armed conflict with Hizballah by pressing for disarmament.
Read more about Hizballah and the Lebanese elections here and here.