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Lebanon: Anti-Syrian Bloc Appears To Sweep Beirut Ballot

All 19 available parliamentary seats in Beirut went to the candidate list of Saad Hariri yesterday -- the first phase of Lebanon's four-phase general election. But Hariri’s victory was marred by a lower voter turnout than he had hoped to see. Further, yesterday's results do not ensure that the son of assassinated former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri will be able to control the 128-member parliament. That's because Lebanon's election law of 2000 -- created under the influence of Syria -- allows political opponents to join forces during elections on "bulldozer lists." And experts say Hariri's candidate list in Beirut was a bulldozer list that has nothing to do with the political alliances to be formed in parliament later.

Prague, 30 May 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Even as the campaign truck with portraits of Saad Hariri drove through the streets of Beirut yesterday with music blaring, it was clear that candidates on his list would do well.

Nine of the capital's 19 parliamentary seats went to candidates on Hariri's list without being contested. By nightfall, it was clear that all 10 undecided seats also went to those on the list presented by the son of assassinated former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

In fact, only a handful of pro-Syrian leftists and Muslim militants had tried to compete. Hariri's candidate list is an alliance with Druze leader Walid Jumblatt and some Christian foes of Syria. The Hariri-Jumblatt alliance also made deals with the main pro-Syrian Shi'ite alliance and included a Hizbollah candidate. Hariri defended the odd election partnership as a show of national unity between some political opponents:

"We all will defend the national unity. Beirut voted today for the national unity and voted for sharing and living together," Saad Hariri said.

But results announced by Interior Minister Hassan Sabaa show that Hariri was denied the high turnout he had sought in Lebanon's first election for three decades without the presence of Syrian troops.

"Regarding the three constituencies in Beirut, the voter turnout reached 28 percent of eligible voters," Sabaa said.

But yesterday’s vote gives little indication of the political groupings that will be formed once delegates take their seats.

That is because of Lebanon’s current election law, which was designed in 2000 to favor Syria's allies, allows the unusual practice of election alliances known as "bulldozer lists."

Nadim Shehadi is an expert on Lebanese politics and the acting director of the Middle East Program at the London-based Royal Institute of International Affairs.

"The impact of using the 2000 law is the way it allows for the formation of bulldozer lists. And a bulldozer is basically a list that is un-opposable -- or that is formed of the main opponents, which means that it will almost certainly win. And no independents have a chance of penetrating that list. The alliances that are formed in the elections -- for the sake of elections -- have nothing to do with the alliances which will be formed in parliament later," Shehadi said.

Groups that have lost out by not being on Hariri's list include parts of the anti-Syrian alliance that has been crumbling in the runup to yesterday's vote. They include the main Armenian Tashnag Party and the anti-Syrian followers of Christian leader Michel Aoun. Both urged people to boycott the ballot, saying that the election law was creating a parliament of political appointees.

Jebran Tueni is the general manager of Lebanese daily "An-Nahar" newspaper and a parliamentary candidate from Beirut.

"For the first time [in three decades] in Lebanon, elections are being held without Syrian occupation and without a Syrian presence. For the first time, candidate lists are composed in Beirut. Not in Anjar or in Damascus. But people should know that the battle is not over yet," Tueni said.

Shehadi explains that in the month since Syrian troops withdrew from Lebanon under international pressure, there has not been enough time to change the election law. He says officials decided to go ahead using the 2000 law rather delay the parliamentary vote and face a constitutional vacuum.

"These elections were conducted by reconciling opponents and making deals between politicians rather than by electors expressing their preferences. The flaw in that law is negative for Lebanese democracy because it allowed for such elections to be conducted. This is something that will be debated and changed later," Shehadi said.

Shehadi says the results of elections in other parts of Lebanon during the weeks ahead also are almost all predictable because strong candidate lists have been created.

Shehadi calls the candidate list in the south a "bulldozer" list because it is an alliance of the three main powers that normally would be opposing each other in an electoral battle -- Hizbolah, the Amal movement and Hariri's party.