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French Version

First round of voting exposes Hariri's weakness

All eyes were on Beirut, where the much anticipated first round of parliamentary elections were under way, with particular attention being paid to voter turnout and the potential emergence of any vulnerability in Saad Hariri's seemingly absolute dominance.

While the predictably low turnout is not a sufficient factor to penetrate Hariri's lists, any upsets at the ballot would provide the necessary spark to encourage Hariri's opponents across the country to put up a serious campaign and quit moaning that "the results are already decided."

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Dashing the Hariri camp's hopes for a high voter turnout, the Armenian Tashnag Party and General Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement actively promoted boycotting Beirut's elections, effectively ensuring deserted polling stations in the capital's Christian-dominated areas.

But the low Christian turnout and relatively active Muslim participation was sufficient to expose the Hariri-led coalition's true weakness, regardless of whether Hariri achieves the expected sweep of the capital's 19 seats.

For Hariri's alliances to fully achieve their expressed goal of 80 to 90 seats in Parliament, Christians must participate at the ballot box to push the considerable, but divided, weight of the Muslim community in their favor.

Sunday's results in Beirut will have a direct impact on how the election campaign moves forward in the rest of the country, especially in the North and West Bekaa, where Hariri is believed to have the upper hand.

In Akkar, MP Ahmad Fatfat is still organizing Hariri's campaign without a Christian representative's participation or public support, with both sides remaining reluctant to make the final decision to ally or not.

Meanwhile, several officials in the North, such as former Premier Omar Karami, have yet to take decisive action either way. The the exceptions are Zghorta MP Suleiman Franjieh and a few others, who have continued to campaign in their respective constituencies regardless of developments elsewhere.

When the election results are announced today, the situation will be much clearer for those in the North and will surely encourage unity among the Sunni representatives in Tripoli and Akkar and the formation of a single list, in addition to pulling hitherto hesitant Christians into their camp.

Following last week's developments, the Aoun-Franjieh alliance is now a reality. And with Beirut's results likely to finally give Aoun something to be happy about, the odds of victory for the Aoun-Franjieh alliance, as well as that of the FPM and its allies in Mount Lebanon, have increased greatly.

Round two of the elections will be held Sunday in the South, where the Amal-Hizbullah alliance is assured victory through its domination of the first district of Zahrani-Tyre-Bint Jbeil, but a heated battle is mounting in the second district of Nabatieh-Hasbaya-Marjayoun.

The Lebanese Communist Party announced its incomplete list for both districts Sunday in Nabatieh. During a rally, former detainee of Israel Anwar Yassin, who is running in the elections on the LCP ticket, stirred up the crowds with a passionate speech.

The leftists' list includes Riyad Asaad, the last remaining candidate running against House Speaker Nabih Berri.

In Metn, Aoun is still undecided on an offer from Michel Murr to merge with the latter's two-man list or form his own list independent of Murr and Murr's opponents, the Qornet Shehwan Gathering.

Aoun has decided to run himself in Kesrouan-Jbeil and has approached several prominent figures such as MPs Fares Boueiz and Mansour Ghanem to join him, but none have yet to accept the offer except MP Neamatallah Abi Nasr.

In Hermel-Baalbek, the Baath Party's candidate was removed from the Hizbullah-led list due to continued disputes inside the Baath leadership over the candidacy.

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Beirut 30-05-2005
Adnan El Ghoul
The Daily Star

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