Lebanese parliamentary polls open in Beirut

Lebanese parliamentary polls open in Beirut

AP Worldstream
May 29, 2005

SAM F. GHATTAS

Voting began in Beirut on Sunday in Lebanon’s first free parliamentary
polls without heavy-handed Syrian meddling. The balloting was clearly
a show of loyalty for Rafik Hariri, the former premier whose
assassination catalyzed the political turmoil that drove Syrian forces
out.

To encourage voters, two of Hariri’s children, Fahd and Ayman, were
among the first to cast their ballots in a Ras Beirut polling station
near the American University, some 30 minutes after polls
opened. Their mother, Nazek, and sister Hind, voted at another polling
station in the Verdun neighborhood.

“I have high hopes today that we will uncover the truth of who planned
and carried out the crime against my beloved husband, who in life
built this country and in his martyrdom achieved national unity,”
Nazek Hariri told reporters after casting her ballot before she headed
to downtown Beirut to pray at her slain husband’s grave.

Many observers expect the polls to sweep the anti-Syrian opposition to
power and install a new parliament, removing the last of Syria’s
political control. Syrian forces withdrew in April, ending a 29-year
military dominance, after mass demonstrations in Lebanon and
relentless international pressure sparked by the February
assassination.

Polls opened at 7 a.m. (0400 GMT) in three districts in the Muslim and
Christian sectors of the Lebanese capital, which votes first in the
staggered elections, and eligible voters _ Beiruti men and women over
the age of 21 _ began arriving at polling stations across the city
under a bright warm sun.

Polls close at 6 p.m. (1500 GMT) and returns are expected Monday at
the earliest. Others regions vote on the next consecutive Sundays.

More than 400,000 people are eligible to vote in Beirut. At stake in
the city are 19 seats, out of the legislature’s 128 seats, which are
divided equally among Muslims and Christians. In Beirut, seats are
allocated according to Lebanon’s power-sharing political system to six
Sunni Muslims, three Armenian Orthodox, two Greek Orthodox, two Shiite
Muslims, one Druse, one Maronite Catholic, one Armenian Catholic, one
Greek Catholic, one Protestant and one for minorities.

Free of Syrian control, the Lebanese government promised to hold “free
and fair” elections. More than 100 foreign observers from the European
Union and the United Nations will be watching the vote for
irregularities, the first time Lebanon has permitted foreign
scrutiny. The organization of French-speaking countries also sent a
delegation.

There were concerns about a low turnout amid calls for a boycott, and
complaints that the ticket of Saad Hariri, Rafik’s son and political
heir, lacked representation of political factions and that nine of his
19 candidates had won by default because there were no challengers.

Saad Hariri, who did not vote because he was registered in his
family’s southern hometown of Sidon, urged voters to go to the polls.

“I have said that the vote today is against the criminals. Many people
are try ing to say today that people will not turn out. We say to
people go out and vote to show gratitude to that person (Rafik Hariri)
who sacrificed his blood and life for this country,” he said after
visiting a polling station. He stressed that his priorities were
national unity and uncovering the truth behind the assassination of
his father, one of Lebanon’s internationally known politicians.

Saad Hariri took over his father’s political mantle in April, two
months after his father and 20 others were killed in a powerful bomb
on a Beirut street. Saad Hariri has staked the election as a show of
loyalty for his father, who held the premiership for 10 of the last 15
years and was credited with rebuilding Lebanon from the destruction of
the 1975-90 civil war.

The opposition has blamed Syria and its Lebanese security
allies. Damascus and the previous Beirut government have denied any
involvement.

Across the country, pre-election machinations have been marked by
withdrawals of candidates amid changing public sentiment. Disputes
within the opposition have also affected the race. A total of 17 of
the 128 legislative seats have already been won uncontested, including
one in the south by Rafik Hariri’s sister, Bahiya.

Hariri’s assassination plunged Lebanon into the worst political crisis
since the end of civil war, forced the resignation of the pro-Syrian
government and brought international pressure to bear on Damascus to
withdraw its army from Lebanon. Syrian forces completed the pullout
April 26.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress

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