World watches key Lebanon vote
A Hezbollah victory would strain ties with the US and with pro-Western nations like Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia.
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Lebanon and much of the international community are waiting with baited breath as citizens cast their votes in the nation's parliamentary election on Sunday. More than 200 international observers are overseeing the election, which is in a dead heat between the Western-backed March 14 faction and the Hezbollah-led coalition supported by Iran and Syria.
The outcome of the election will likely determine not only much about the future of Lebanon's internal politics, but it also stands to reshape international relations in the Middle East. Top US officials have implied that military aid may be reduced if the militant Hizbullah wins a majority of the parliament. A Hezbollah victory would strain ties with pro-Western nations like Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. Additionally, it may send Iran a signal that its aggressive stance toward the West and Israel is well received in the region.
Lebanese television stations have reported heavy voter turn-out so far, with a number of Lebanese citizens who live overseas returning home for the elections. There are 128 available seats in the parliament and three million eligible voters in Lebanon. The Gulf News reports that security is tight, with nearly 55,000 soldiers and policemen securing the countries 1,700 voting centers.
The country is divided between two main coalitions. The March 14 bloc is aligned with pro-Western interests and is the current ruling party. It is competing against the Hezbollah-led, March 8 opposition bloc that includes Christian and pro-Syrian groups. Lebanon's Daily Star reports that neither bloc is expected to win a decisive victory.
The country's Christians are expected to be the "king makers" in this election, reports Al Jazeera. The group is heavily divided and remains active in both blocs. This fluid group will likely produce Lebanon's swing voters.
If the Hezbollah-led March 8 bloc wins a majority in the elections, it may place the US in a difficult position. In an interview with The Los Angles Times, Lebanon analyst Paul Salem says that while a Hezbollah win will cause concern for the new American administration, their response will likely be more "nuanced" than the US government's response when Hamas took control of Gaza.
Both Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have spoken out strongly against Hizbullah, saying that the victory of the Shiite group would cause a negative reaction from the US. Stephen Zunes, a Middle Eastern studies professor at the University of San Francisco writes on the Huffington Post that Mr. Biden and Ms. Clinton's support for Israel during its 2006 war with Hizbullah remains a point of contention in Lebanon that may add an additional layer of complication to future political responses.
In Israel, there has been much concern for Israel's security amid speculation that Hizbullah could win majority control of Lebanon's parliament. In Israel's Haaretz newspaper an article provocatively titled "Would Hezbollah win in Lebanon election lead to war with Israel?" reported that in some highly contested cities candidates are spending up to $1,500 per vote to win a support base that will carry them to victory.