Syrians Eye Neighbour's Election

Outcome of Lebanon’s parliamentary ballot will determine relations between neighbouring states, say analysts.

Syrians Eye Neighbour's Election

Outcome of Lebanon’s parliamentary ballot will determine relations between neighbouring states, say analysts.

Saturday, 6 June, 2009
Syrians will be closely watching the June 7 general election in Lebanon, as they believe the outcome will shape future relations between the countries, say observers.

“Many Syrians are hoping that the new political team to govern Lebanon will not be hostile to their country,” said Ahmad Khalif, a Damascus-based political analyst.

He said Lebanon’s ruling coalition of Muslim, Druze and Christian factions – known as the March 14 group – was partly responsible for pressure exerted by western powers against Syria's government and the Syrian population.

Relations between Damascus and Beirut deteriorated significantly following the assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri in February 2005.

The killing – which was widely blamed on Syria – led to the withdrawal of Syria armed forces from the country after almost 30 years of Syrian interference in Lebanese affairs.

A hardening of the western stance towards Syria also followed, with the United States withdrawing its ambassador from Damascus and imposing economic sanctions against the country.

Damascus denied any involvement in Hariri’s killing. An international tribunal, which opened in the Netherlands in March this year, is currently investigating the assassination.

Last year, relations between the two states began to thaw following a political agreement among pro- and anti-Syrian Lebanese political groups.

An unprecedented exchange of embassies took place between Beirut and Damascus, and the countries declared they were cooperating on security matters.

Syrians hope that this rapprochement will continue following the June polls.

Observers here suggest that Syria could somehow try and obstruct, through its Lebanese political allies, the formation of a government badly disposed to Damascus.

“Syria will not accept the establishment of a Lebanese government that would be hostile to its political, economic and strategic interests,” said another Damascus-based political expert.

He noted that Damascus would want to prevent any future authorities from submitting to western pressure and attempting to disarm the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

Syria considers the Lebanese militia to be its main ally in Lebanon and a crucial bargaining chip in its negotiations with Israel and the West.

The analyst argued that Syria wanted to keep its alliance with Iran and Hezbollah strong to balance Israeli and US power in the region.

At the upcoming election, the US-backed March 14 coalition will be pitted against Hezbollah and its allies, which together are known as the March 8 Alliance, and are supported by Iran and Syria.

However, Syrian officials have repeatedly said that they will not meddle in Lebanese internal affairs.

A June 2 editorial in the pro-government Al-Watan newspaper said that Damascus had taken a “clear decision” not to interfere in the Lebanese elections.

Meanwhile, experts say an improvement in relations between the two countries would lead to more cooperation, especially on economic matters.

Khalif said this would be beneficial for both countries, especially against the backdrop of the current global financial crisis.

Observers say that Syrians have been paying much more attention to the heated electoral campaign in Lebanon than to political developments in their own country.

Television sets in cafes across the capital have been tuned to political programmes discussing the Lebanese ballot.

“The victory of Hezbollah’s coalition in the election will be a triumph for the Syrians,” said pensioner Ahmad Ghazal, while watching an election talk show in a coffee shop.

Ghazal suggested that a victory for Syria’s allies would allow Damascus to restore its former influence over its neighbour.

Some believe that Syrians have been observing political life in Lebanon because of an absence of democracy and freedom in their own country.

“I wish we had the same level of democracy in Syria,” said a college student, studying economy.

“A citizen has no real value if he cannot vote and bring about change in his own country.”

Others, however, said the Lebanese ballots were not an electoral model to be followed.

Polls in Lebanon are based on sectarianism and racism and are very far from freedom and democracy, said Yasser Arabi, a grocery shop owner.

Arabi said that he thought the elections in Lebanon were farcical, and claimed that the results had already been decided.
Support our journalists