June 8, 2009 / 12:46 AM / 10 years ago

Hezbollah accepts election loss, U.S. backs allies

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah accepted on Monday the result of a parliamentary election in Lebanon in which his U.S.-backed opponents secured a majority over the Iranian-backed group and its allies.

Supporters of Christian parties in the anti-Syrian coalition celebrate their win in the parliamentary election in Beirut June 8, 2009. REUTERS/Hussam Shbaro

“We accept these results...with sportsmanship and in a democratic way and we accept that the ruling camp has won the parliamentary majority,” Nasrallah said in a televised address, a day after the surprise victory by the anti-Syrian coalition.

The United States, which backs that “March 14” alliance, renewed its support to the group, which also enjoys the backing of regional heavyweights Saudi Arabia and Egypt. President Barack Obama said Washington would “continue to support a sovereign and independent Lebanon, committed to peace.”

“It is our sincere hope that the next government will continue along the path toward building a sovereign, independent and stable Lebanon,” he said in a statement.

Results declared by Interior Minister Ziad Baroud showed Saad al-Hariri’s pro-Western bloc had won 71 of parliament’s 128 seats, against 57 for an opposition alliance that groups Shi’ite factions Hezbollah and Amal with Christian leader Michel Aoun.

Hariri’s total includes three independents who ran on his lists in Sunday’s election. Many analysts had predicted the election would produce a slim victory for the “March 8” alliance, composed of Hezbollah and its partners.

Their loss is a major blow to Hezbollah’s patrons, Syria and Iran, where hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will also be competing against rivals who advocate less confrontation with the West in an election this week.

HEZBOLLAH POPULAR

Nasrallah said opposition leaders would meet soon to agree on a joint position on the naming of a new prime minister and the formation of a new government.

Despite his coalition’s defeat, Nasrallah said the result showed his group still enjoyed massive popular support.

Hezbollah and Amal swept the vote in mainly Shi’ite areas but defeat for Aoun in the key Christian districts of Zahleh and Ashrafiyeh deprived the alliance of the majority it had sought.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Lebanese to respect the results and hoped the process to start forming a government would begin immediately, his spokesman Farhan Haq said.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, whose Carter Center was also observing the election, said the results were “fairly accurate as a judgment of the will of the people.”

Michael Williams, the U.N. special coordinator for Lebanon, said the formation of the new cabinet could take several weeks after the designation of the new prime minister.

Hariri has previously said the opposition could join a unity government, but without veto power.

Hezbollah, classified by the United States as a terrorist organization, sees veto rights as vital to fend off any challenge to its status as an armed group resisting Israel.

Slideshow (18 Images)

The EU observer mission said vote-buying had marred the election. “Financial resources played an excessively large role in the campaign and new regulations on spending have yet to have any notable effort on this phenomenon,” it added.

Lebanon’s rival camps are at odds over Hezbollah’s guerrilla force, more powerful than the Lebanese army, and relations with Syria, which dominated Lebanon for three decades until 2005.

Tensions in Lebanon mostly have been kept in check since the Qatari-mediated accord last year dragged the country back from the brink of civil war. A thaw in relations between Saudi Arabia and Syria has also helped maintain stability in recent months.

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