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U.S. analyst says elections show Lebanon voters are maturing

A U.S. analyst said he was satisfied with Lebanon's election results which demonstrated a maturing electorate, but voiced his concern that the Hezbollah movement remained a threat in the country.

MOSCOW, June 9 (RIA Novosti) - A U.S. analyst said he was satisfied with Lebanon's election results which demonstrated a maturing electorate, but voiced his concern that the Hezbollah movement remained a threat in the country.

The Western-backed "March 14" coalition won Sunday's parliamentary elections in Lebanon defeating the Hezbollah-led opposition.

"I am a congenital pessimist; I was concerned that Hezbollah may win somehow - even if you count the number of Sunnis and Christians in that country, they are a majority," Ariel Cohen, a senior research fellow for the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, told RIA Novosti.

"This is a good development that they didn't. I think it tells us that the electorate in Lebanon is mature and people understood what is at stake, because, really, the future of Lebanon was at stake," he said.

Lebanese Interior Minister Ziad Baroud, who heads the election commission, said Monday the "March 14" coalition, led by Saad al-Hariri, the son of ex-premier Rafik Hariri killed in 2005, won 71 seats out of 128, against 57 seats won by the opposition, with Hezbollah retaining 11 deputy mandates.

Cohen said: "the '14 March' coalition is more progressive, more Western-oriented, more focused towards economic development, than the Hezbollah-led coalition... Also, it indicates that the conflict between Lebanon and Israel is, at least, under control, in some kind of stasis."

Some observers have stated that the reason for the opposition's failure was a fear among Lebanese, first of all Christians, that a Hezbollah victory could increase the threat of a new confrontation with Israel. And with presidential elections scheduled in Iran for Friday the voting reflected the fear of growing Iranian influence among Lebanese voters.

Cohen said, "If Hezbollah took over the Lebanese state, it would have used the whole state as a bridgehead in the war against Israel. So, in that respect it is also a positive development. Hezbollah is a fully owned subsidiary of Iran and I think it is also a signal that the power of the Iranian extremists, including inside Iran, the power of the radicals, led by president Ahmadinejad, may be challenged."

Cohen said he was concerned that Hezbollah would not cede power without a struggle: "Hezbollah will find pressure points, they will try to figure out how they can push this government. When they used force last year, the '14 March' coalition had no real response in terms of the muscle, in terms of the military defensive action."

"They don't control the army, they don't have their own strong militia that can compare with Hezbollah, and they allowed Hezbollah to become a state within a state - and that's the tragedy of Lebanon. One more point: while these [the election results] are pretty good news for the more sane forces in the Middle East, now the Lebanese government, based on the popular mandate, needs to disarm Hezbollah in accordance with the UN resolutions!"

Asked whether the election result was a victory for the U.S., he said it was more of a victory for the Lebanese themselves and for Europe.

"I do not agree that this is pro-US force per se. I'll explain why. The historic roots of the Lebanese Christians are, in terms of political support, with France and with Europe. Lebanese Christians are the most Europeanized element in the Arab Middle East. They are not as Americanized as they are Westernized."

"It's a victory, I would say for Europe, first of all, it's a victory for Lebanon, for Lebanese people, because they narrowly escaped the domination by Hezbollah and Iran."


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