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Hariri Wins Month-long Election, Political Factions at Odds

The opposition alliance led by Saad Hariri won Lebanon's month-long elections that ended last weekend. While some former enemies from the Lebanese civil war may have formed new alliances, other rifts along religious lines are still strong.

The day after the election, in a room adorned with pictures of his slain father, Saad Hariri declared victory for his Future Movement.

Mr. Hariri said, "We are following in the footsteps that my father has begun. His political program and economical program is to have a country where it has a legal system that is free."

Riding on the legacy of his father, and a theme of bringing down the Lebanese security system and it's Syrian control, the Hariri bloc, allied with Walid Jumblatt's Druse group, will hold 72 of the 128 seats in parliament, a 56 percent majority. 35 seats went to the Hezbollah/Berri alliance, and 21 seats went to General Michel Aoun and his allies.

General Aoun told reporters, "As the opposition, we will not participate in the government. There is disagreement on values. We are following one path while they are following another."

Mr. Aoun's path has been disappointing to the Hariri bloc. Recently returned from exile in France, he was always strongly anti-Syrian. But this time Mr. Aoun allied himself with pro-Syrian politicians and took enough seats to deny the Hariri bloc a two-thirds parliamentary majority. He has accused the Hariri camp of using provocative confessional tactics, in other words, playing up the religious divisions in the country and corrupting the political process.

Martin Indyk, with the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., says part of Mr. Aoun's appeal is his absence from Lebanese politics over the last 10 years, "The kind of broad support that he has managed to generate on his return is truly extraordinary. I think it comes from a revulsion with politics as the Lebanese have experienced over the last 10 years since he left."

But with the euphoria surrounding a new political order in Lebanon, there is also fear. This election has opened up old sectarian hostilities that seemed forgotten as hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets after the assassination of Rafik Hariri. Saad Hariri is a Sunni Muslim, while Michel Aoun is a Maronite Catholic.

David Mack, with the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C. says the Lebanese political system needs to reform its sectarian bias and become more pluralistic if the country is to move forward. "It was never clear that there could be a successful building of a Christian-Muslim alliance. That would bridge those sectarian differences with a strong reformist platform. It was always clear to those who know Lebanon that there were going to be lots of personal animosities among the different Lebanese leaders that in many cases would be more powerful than the ethos of reform. And this of course is what happened."

There is also the threat of continued violence. Last week, another political figure, former Communist Party leader and outspoken Syrian critic George Hawi was assassinated on the streets of Beirut. Once again speculation centers on Syrian involvement.

Saad Hariri and his alliance have a big task ahead of them. They must form a new government, reform the political system and develop a new relationship with Syria without enflaming old sectarian rivalries.