The deadlocked struggle between the pro-U.S. government and mainly Shiite opposition deepened Monday after a tense parliamentary election showed a sharp divide among Christians, a key swing bloc.
Sunnis are the base for the ruling coalition, which opposes Syrian influence. Shiite Muslims, led by Hezbollah, overwhelmingly back the pro-Syrian opposition. Neither side has been able to decisively lure the Christians, around a third of Lebanon's 4-million people, to their camp.
That deadlock was reinforced when pro-government candidate Amin Gemayel, a former president and the head of one of Lebanon's most powerful Maronite Christian families, conceded defeat by a mere 418 votes in Sunday's election in the Christian stronghold of Metn north of Beirut.
The victor was little-known Kamil Khoury, who was backed by the most prominent Christian leader in the pro-Syrian opposition, Michel Aoun. Khoury took 39,534 votes to Gemayel's 39,116.
The result, said Rami Khoury, an analyst with the Issam Fares think tank at the American University of Beirut, "shows a very polarized Christian community."
Many fear the formation of competing governments if the situation is not resolved before the race to replace pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud, whose term ends Nov. 23.
Under Lebanon's division of power, the presidency is held by a Maronite Christian chosen by parliament. Now, no Maronite leader can claim to represent the entire community.