Low turnout in Lebanon’s first vote

Agence France Presse
May 29 2005

Low turnout in Lebanon’s first vote

BEIRUT — Lebanese trickled to polling stations on Sunday in the
first elections in three decades free of Syria’s grip, with success
assured for the son of Rafiq Hariri whose murder triggered a popular
uprising against the pro-Damascus regime.

Security was tight across the capital for the first phase of the
four-round elections but after four hours of voting barely one in 10
voters had cast their ballot despite opposition calls for a high
turnout.

The polls, taking place a month after the last Syrian soldier left
Lebanese soil, are being staged under international supervision for
the first time, with over 100 European Union and United Nations
observers on the ground.

“According to the statistics I have received, turnout was somewhat
low. It was about 12 percent at 11 am (0800 GMT),” or four hours
after the polls opened, Prime Minister Nagib Miqati told a press
conference.

Leading figures in the anti-Syrian opposition, which is expected to
take the lion’s share of seats in the 128-member parliament, urged
voters to cast their ballots to ensure the results had the stamp of
legitimacy.

Results are expected from the Beirut round on Monday but the
nationwide tally will not be known until after the final phase on
June 19.

“Go to the polls because today is the defining moment to show a
united Beirut,” said Saad Hariri, anointed his father’s successor
after the billionaire businessman and five-times prime minister was
killed in a massive bomb blast in Beirut in February that triggered
months of political upheaval.

His murder heightened the pressure on Lebanon’s political masters in
Syria which finally pulled out all its troops in April after a
29-year military presence but remains an influential voice in its
smaller neighbour.

Lebanon has some three million eligible voters, 59 percent Muslim and
41 percent Christian, who will be voting for 128 parliamentary seats
to be shared equally by the Christian and Muslim communities.

Former exiled Christian General Michel Aoun — who recently fell out
with Hariri and his Muslim allies in the opposition — and the
powerful Armenian party Tashnag had called for the boycott. Their
followers were roaming the streets, distributing leaflets reading:
“Do not vote.”

Even before the first vote was cast, Saad Hariri’s list had won nine
seats in Beirut when rival candidates dropped out and it is expected
to win the remaining 10 up for grabs on Sunday.

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