Lebanon’s Aounists: Hollow Election Victory

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Nevertheless, some Aounists are less than optimistic about the challenging period ahead. For one, given the postponement of the elections for over a year, the party may not be able to benefit from the lead that it enjoys today. (Photo: Haitham Moussawi)

By: Ghassan Saoud

Published Friday, May 31, 2013

Lebanon’s dominant Christian party, the Free Patriotic Movement, led by General Michel Aoun, has made a habit of dressing up their failure as if it were a victory.

Even in the face of Aoun’s worst setbacks, like being exiled by the Syrian army, he has managed to portray himself as the victor, a man who stood up for his country and his principles against tremendous odds.

And again, during the 2005 parliamentary elections, Aoun spun the poor showing he suffered in some districts into a victory for his Free Patriotic Movement (FPM). The intent here, of course, was to lift his supporters’ morale, but the method was always to blame others for the party’s shortcomings.

In 1990, he blamed his bitter rivals in the Lebanese Forces for surrendering to the Taif Agreement, and consequently Syrian control of Lebanon. In 2005, he was able to lay it at the feet of the quartet alliance that was formed to contain his growing influence.

Today, Aounists everywhere are celebrating despite the fact that they lost the electoral law battle that they staked so much on. Parliament has now postponed the elections for 17 months, yet another blow to the FPM, which strongly opposes such a step.

It is true that by standing firm on the Orthodox Gathering electoral law, the general’s party has gained much credibility among Christian voters. Recent public opinion polls have indicated as much, showing a marked increase in the FPM’s popularity.

Nevertheless, some Aounists are less than optimistic about the challenging period ahead. For one, given the postponement of the elections for over a year, the party may not be able to benefit from the lead that it enjoys today.

Party pessimists are also worried about their solid and strategic alliance with Hezbollah, who they feel has not backed the FPM enough on critical matters.

Some Aounists suspect that Hezbollah and Amal were behind the resignation of the Najib Mikati government and the naming of Tammam Salam as prime minister-designate. They also blame Hezbollah for not exerting enough pressure on their ally, Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri, for putting the Orthodox law up before a vote in parliament.

The two allies are also at odds today over priorities, with Hezbollah insisting that the decisive battle is taking place in Syria, while the FPM places local Lebanese issues at the fore of their agenda.

The Aounists concede that the Syrian crisis has a lot of bearing on what happens in their country, but they remind Hezbollah that even after the Resistance scored one of its greatest victories over Israel in 2006, it was unable to translate it positively on the ground in Lebanon, because it underestimated the importance of the internal front.

Unfortunately, the February 2008 memorandum of understanding between the two parties, which represents the cornerstone of their enduring alliance, does not stipulate agreement on conducting elections on time.

This has led some Aounists to go so far as to criticize their ally over its involvement in the Syria and, in turn, go along with efforts to delay the Lebanese parliamentary elections.

Finally, the growing differences between the two parties has led to a loosening of Aoun’s parliamentary bloc, which includes two other Christian parties: the Armenian Dashnak and Suleiman Franjieh’s Marada Party, both of which indicated that they will support the extension of parliament in today’s session, which FPM MPs plan to boycott completely.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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