Lebanon's voters answer Iran's guns

Hezbollah's loss in Sunday's election should end its veto power, and perhaps its gun power.

As the crossroads for the Middle East, Lebanon has just posted a new road sign for the region: Elections do matter.

This tiny country's vote on Sunday for a new parliament all but repudiated Iran's heavy hand in trying to turn Lebanon's Shiite militia, Hezbollah, into a lance against Israel, the US, and the West.

The outcome gives a pro-West coalition called March 14 a stronger hand to rule, but it also sends a signal to voters in Iran. They go to the polls Friday to elect a president, and the ruling clerics and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad must be worried that popular will could also could turn against them.

Pro-West voters in Lebanon saw in May 2008 how Iran-backed Hezbollah used its military dominance to take over Beirut in order for its coalition (known as March 8) to gain veto rights over the government. And they also saw how a popular prime minister, Rafik Hariri, was assassinated in 2005, allegedly by anti-West killers.

Now, perhaps, with this election – which had an unusually large voter turnout – Hezbollah has clearly been told that democracy forces do not want to be coerced by guns (or Iran's vote-buying money). Perhaps other democracy supporters in the Middle East will take heart from Lebanon's example.

Hezbollah, however, won't be cowed easily. After its loss, one leader claimed that the group had "legitimacy" simply by the power of its guns.

The group fears being disarmed – as called for under a UN mandate – or blended into Lebanon's weak Army, which would be akin to recognizing its enemy, Israel. Iran uses Hezbollah and its rockets to keep Israel on the defensive. This election (and perhaps the one in Iran) might now weaken that strategy.

The March 14 coalition likely won't be able to disarm Hezbollah because of this one election. (Hezbollah has a nasty habit of assassinating political opponents.) But the ruling coalition should at least have the courage to end Hezbollah's veto power after it has slipped in its electoral appeal.

The minority Shiites in Lebanon need a strong voice in government, but that voice shouldn't come out of the barrel of an AK-47 or from Tehran's oil money.

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