Lebanese by-election agonizingly close

BEIRUT — Well, in the words Dan Rather, the election in Metn is as tight “as the rusted lug nuts on a ’55 Ford.” Phalangeist Party officials say they won by a few hundred votes. The Free Patriotic Movement says *they* won by a few hundred votes. Both sides have claimed victory and both sides have said there were voting irregularities.
[Here’s a round up of the various stories from Google News.](http://news.google.com/?ncl=1118537831&hl=en) In general however, it looks like 43 percent of the voters came out in Metn, an astonishingly high number for an off-year election. (How many of those votes were Syrians naturalized as Lebanese and bused in from Damascus is unclear. But the voted for the Aounist candidate.) Today’s contest shaped up as a battle for the right to claim the leadership of the Christians in Lebanon. If Aoun loses, his chance of ever becoming president will be lower than a snake’s belly, channelling Rather again, because his appeal to the Shi’ite-led opposition was that he claimed to represent the Christians. If Amin Gemayel loses, it will be a huge blow for the pro-government forces. (Amin Gemayel is the father of Pierre and a former president. There is much public sympathy because he lost his son.)


I was in Jdeideh today, near where [Pierre Gemaymel was assassinated last November](http://www.back-to-iraq.com/2006/11/pierre_gemayel_has_been_assass.php) and the Aounists were out in force with more people, more energy and more orange. It was interesting talking to both sides. Aounists would tie themselves in logical knots trying to explain how their alliance with a pro-Syrian opposition — which includes the *Syrian* Social Nationalist Party, for Pete’s sake — doesn’t make them pro-Syrian or that their leader will have to listen to Syria as payback. The nearest to consistency I was able to glean was something along the lines of, “We were against Syria when it was here, but it’s not here now so let’s be friends with it. Besides, all those other guys (Jumblatt, Hariri, Geagea) were in Syria’s camp.”
Sure. Whatever.
The Phalangeists were even more offensive. One man told me the seat “belongs” to them. When I said how can any elected office “belong” to anyone in a democracy, he said the Christians (and the Maronites especially) were the first to bring democracy to Lebanon. And so, it’s only right that no one run against Amin Gemayel. Huh?
You have to remember, the Lebanese are an emotional people. They like to let sentiment overrule rules. And while Gemayel supporters may admit it’s perfectly legal for Aoun to run a candidate in the special election to replace the young Gemayel, they think it’s very bad form. As one Lebanese friend of mine told me when I said it seemed like Aoun was legally in the right, “We don’t have laws in Lebanon; we have ethics.” And for sure, many of the Gemayel supporters were incensed that Aoun would dare run a candidate against the father of a dead guy. Doesn’t he realize that the seat “belongs” to the Gemayels?
There were many threats of violence, but so far it seems any incidents were either small or successfully kept under wraps. No one has said there was any fighting, but hell, the night is young, and neither side is likely to concede. Official results are due tomorrow. Both sides have accused the other of funny business, with Amin Gemayel saying “the dead were voting” in Bourj Hammoud, the Armenian Quarter that looks nothing like Chicago.
More tomorrow…