So forget any and all predictions I make on this blog. Nothing is yet official, but it looks as if the March 14th coalition will win the elections in Lebanon -- by perhaps a wider margin than any of us would have guessed 24 hours ago.
So what does it mean? Well, my initial thoughts on some winners and losers:
Saudi Money: While all signs point toward a free and fair election having taken place, the fact that rivals both inside and outside of Lebanon spent a lot of money on this election should not be ignored. I heard one estimate that March 14th was expected to spend upwards of $500 million. That is surely more than was actually spent, but maybe not too much more than Mr. Hariri and his Saudi allies dropped on this one.
Hizballah: Hey, look on the bright side, boys! Now you don't have to govern. It's a lot easier to be in the opposition if you're Hizballah. You still keep your arms, and there is less pressure from the outside. I can't help but think not everyone in Hizballah was looking forward to all the attention that would have come along with an electoral victory.
U.S. Central Command and Department of Defense: Both would have faced some really tough questions from the Congress concerning aid to the Lebanese Armed Forces if Hizballah had won.
Nepotism: Goodness gracious, how many Gemayels won? Did Nayla Tueni win too? Still, voter turnout was something crazy like 54+%. That's great news, even if people used their votes to elect the same old names.
The Maronite Patriarch: The old man's still got it. An effective last-minute intervention.
Hizballah: Well, let's see, what has happened since the 2005 elections? Well, there was that huge war that devastated the country and was kicked off by a dumb kidnapping, and then there was that thing in May 2008 where an armed militia and its allies took over the middle class neighborhoods of western Beirut while the rest of Lebanon and the Lebanese diaspora watched on television. Hmm... I'm going to go out on a limb here, but maybe -- just maybe -- those two events gave the Christians of Lebanon a slight pause about supporting Hizballah. I've said it before and I'll say it again here: for Hizballah, from a domestic political perspective, I think the events of May 2008 were an even bigger miscue than the July 2006 war. At least in 2006, the other side reacted in such a way as to make people forget who started the conflict. The sight of Hizballah gunmen imposing their political will by force on the streets of Beirut in 2008, though, will continue to cost Hizballah and its allies.
Israeli hard-liners: Boy, they would have loved it if they could have shoved a Hizballah victory in Obama's face. And if Hizballah had won, its arms would have been the subject of more scrutiny from the international community, perhaps. Now all eyes will be on the Iranian elections. And if Ahmadinejad loses, someone might want to put Moshe Ya'alon on suicide watch.
Nasrallah: What a silly quote this is: "Whatever the results of the election, we cannot change the standing delicate balances or repeat the experiences of the past which led to catastrophes on Lebanon," he told Reuters. Oh, come on, guys, what's a pesky democratic process between friends? Can we please keep our blocking third anyway? Pleeeeease?
Which makes me wonder what, exactly, will come of that blocking third in the cabinet? Last night, a friend asked me if Hizballah would keep the blocking third -- allowing it veto power over all legislation -- even if March 14th won the election. Well, I did not think that March 14th would win, honestly, but I could see how they might squeek by with a victory. So I said that Hizballah would likely keep the blocking third. After all, I said, "they have the guns." Now, though, with March 14th winning more seats than I would have thought -- 7-0 in Zahle! 3-0 in Koura! -- I am not sure what's going to happen. A deal will be struck, but a lot more will be on the table for discussion than I would have thought possible.
It's going to be an interesting next few weeks...