- The Washington Times - Monday, June 13, 2005

BEIRUT — Michel Aoun, who returned from exile in France to split the anti-Syrian opposition by winning a stunning victory in parliamentary elections Sunday, emerged yesterday as an unexpected power broker in Lebanon.

“What does the unity of the opposition mean? It was all hollow,” the former army general told reporters. “It had no program. When we came up with one, they were not willing to discuss it.

“This is a country that should be built on sound foundations, the first of which is combating corruption in the state. But this was what turned everyone against us,” said Gen. Aoun, who battled Syrian forces in 1990 and later fled to exile.

Switching sides, the general allied with pro-Syrian elements for the elections and took 21 of the 58 seats contested in the central and eastern regions, Interior Minister Hassan al-Sabei said.

The main anti-Syrian opposition alliance, led by Druze leader Walid Jumblatt and the son of assassinated former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, had 19 seats going into the third round of voting and needed an additional 46 for a majority in the 128-seat parliament.

But Mr. Jumblatt’s ticket picked up only 27 seats Sunday, giving it a total of 46, which was far short of a majority.

The anti-Syrian bloc still has a chance to clinch a majority in the fourth and final round of voting this Sunday in the north, where the remaining 28 seats will be decided.

As of yesterday, the opposition had yet to reconcile itself to the prospect that it may need Gen. Aoun to form a majority coalition.

The Syrian withdrawal this spring allowed Gen. Aoun to return from exile, but he failed to join the main opposition coalition. Instead, he formed an improbable alliance with some pro-Syrian Christians while claiming that the move did not reflect a change in his stance on Syria.

Despite Gen. Aoun’s 15-year exile and constant work to help promote the U.N. Security Council resolution that eventually forced Syria out of Lebanon after 29 years, Mr. Jumblatt insisted that the retired general was a Syrian stooge.

“They brought Aoun back to use him as an instrument of tension among the Christians,” Mr. Jumblatt said.

Aoun supporters were quick to note that the general refused to sign or accept the 1990 Taif Accord, which ended the civil war and was signed by all major Lebanese groups, including Mr. Jumblatt, the Lebanese Forces and others, which allowed Syria to remain as an occupier.

Gen. Aoun in turn has called Mr. Jumblatt and the younger Mr. Hariri latecomers to the anti-Syrian movement.

Even if the Hariri-Jumblatt opposition does not need Gen. Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement for a parliamentary coalition, the former leader has positioned himself for a run at the presidency, should President Emile Lahoud resign or be forced from office.

Gen. Aoun, Mr. Jumblatt and Mr. Hariri agree that Mr. Lahoud needs to leave because of his ties to Syria and the perception that he or his security services were responsible for the elder Mr. Hariri’s murder in February.

But Mr. Lahoud remained defiant.

“I’m staying till the last moment I have in my tenure. The constitution says so. Is it wrong to be united, to have a stable Lebanon?” he said recently.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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