Former Lebanese President Amin Gemayel has gone down to defeat in a parliament by-election to fill the seat of his late son, Pierre, assassinated last November. It was also a stinging defeat for the embattled pro-Western government of Prime Minister Fouad Saniora, as Edward Yeranian reports from Beirut.
Parliament by-elections are usually not the subject of contention in Lebanon. However, Sunday's contest to replace two slain members of parliament have inflamed passions across the political spectrum.
Former President Amin Gemayel was defeated by a razor-thin margin of 400 votes in a Christian Beirut suburb, in what observers are calling a litmus test of support for Lebanon's embattled pro-Western government.
The winner, an obscure political figure representing former army commander and opposition leader General Michel Aoun, reinforces the pro-Syrian opposition coalition, which includes Aoun's Hezbollah allies.
Lebanon Interior Minister Hassan al Saba'a announced the results of the hotly contested election, early Monday morning, amid claims of fraud by former President Gemayel.
Saba'a says the former president is contesting the election's results. Saba'a says the election committee has received a complaint lodged by a representative of President Gemayel, to invalidate the election results.
Voting irregularities forced the Election Monitoring Committee to cast aside results from at least one electoral district.
The Beirut media is calling the contest a show of strength to anoint Lebanon's top Christian political figure.
Al Diyar newspaper headlined, "Aoun wins by the numbers, but Gemayel recovers top role," in a reference to which Maronite Christian political leader will have the most influence in this fall's presidential elections.
Lebanon's president traditionally belongs to the Maronite Catholic sect and is elected by vote of parliament.
The head of the former Lebanese Forces Christian Militia, Samir Geagea, is calling the election a test of strength in Lebanon's Christian camp.
Geagea says the results reveal who really represents Christians, especially in the next phase, which include presidential elections.
The former Army Commander, General Aoun, who is vying to be president, once fought a "War of Liberation" against Syria, but is now aligned with a coalition, including Hezbollah and other Syrian allies.
Many Christians, including those belonging to the pro-Western government of Prime Minister Fouad Saniora, complain that Aoun made a secret deal with Syria to gain its support.
Syria's key allies in Lebanon openly urged their supporters to vote for Aoun's candidate in yesterday's election.