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Aoun sweeps to victory in Mount Lebanon, Zahle

Lebanon's Michel Aoun, who only returned home last month after 15 years in exile, was poised for a remarkable political comeback last night according to preliminary results in the third round of elections.

Aoun's arch rival, Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, conceded defeat last night in the most closely contested battle of this year's election.

Lebanon's divided anti-Syrian opposition fought it out for almost half of the country's parliamentary seats. But Jumblatt again attacked Aoun, calling him a "small Syrian tool".

The third round of voting in the country's first elections free of Syrian control, held in the Mount Lebanon and Bekaa districts, comes amid renewed international and local fears Syrian intelligence has re-infiltrated Lebanon's Bekaa Valley despite last April's highly publicized Syrian pullout.

Early indications show Aoun made a clean sweep in the largely Christian Kesrouan-Jbeil and Metn and Zahle, a list headed by Elias Skaff. Aoun may well have beaten rival Maronite and key opposition figures, Nassib Lahoud and Fares Soueid.

In Baabda-Aley Aoun and Jumblatt were still neck and neck as The Daily Star went to press. At 11:15pm around 30 percent of ballots had been counted.

More than 50 percent of the 1.2 million people eligible to vote in the Mount Lebanon and the Eastern Bekaa cast votes.

This year's election is set to produce the first majority anti-Syrian parliament in Lebanon for 29 years.

Lebanon's Interior Ministry's preliminary results showed the percentage of vote was of 54 percent in Mount Lebanon and 49 percent in the Bekaa.

The ministry said voter turnout in the majority Christian Kesrouan-Jbeil district, in Mount Lebanon where Aoun was heading a list, reached more than 60 percent, a turnout previously unseen in the area.

After the first two moribund rounds of elections, the results of which were a foregone conclusion, the participation and closeness of yesterday's battle will be welcomed by many Lebanese, who have criticised the legal framework for these elections as undemocratic.

With just one round of voting left next week, the major task for the incoming parliament will be to address the thorny issue of the disarming of Lebanese resistance group Hizbullah, as demanded by the international community.

There is also the equally problematic issue of the future of Lebanon's pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud.

Calls for Lahoud's resignation have increased in recent weeks as the opposition's victory became more certain.

But after casting his vote in Mount Lebanon, Lahoud insisted: "I am staying until the last moment in my tenure and this is because I believe that the Constitution says so."

Lahoud added: "We did as much as possible to stop corruption but there are so many corrupt people in politics so I voted for the people who will stop corruption."

He also urged Parliament to issue a new electoral law to replace the current law, which was adopted with his support in 2000 when Syrian hegemony was at its height.

But yesterday Lahoud insisted he was always opposed to the law. He said: "Those are lies. I stood against the law at the time."

At stake yesterday were 58 of Parliament's 128 seats.

But only 56 seats were up for grabs since Druze opposition leader Walid Jumblatt and his ally, Marwan Hamade, had already won uncontested in the Chouf district.

Forty-two MPs have already been elected in the first two rounds. In Beirut the son of slain former Premier Rafik Hariri won all of the area's 19 seats by a landslide. In South Lebanon Hizbullah and Amal also swept all the region's 23 seats.

In the run-up to the parliamentary elections, the hitherto united opposition split.

Although he is staunchly anti-Syrian, Aoun's success could hurt the opposition's drive to gain a majority in Parliament and end Syrian control.

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Beirut 13-06-2005
Nayla Assaf
The Daily Star



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