Lebanese Vote in Parliamentary Elections
Lebanese living in the north of the country and the central area of Mount Lebanon overlooking the capital Beirut voted Sunday in the first stage of general elections, with the rest of the country going to the polls on September 3rd.
Sunday's polling involved around 1.3 million voters, with 286 candidates running for 63 seats in parliament.
Polling stations were to remain open until 6.00 p.m. (1500 GMT).
The Lebanese army, in charge of security for the poll, had mobilized some 10,000 troops with heavy weapons since Saturday evening. They were backed up by another 7,000 paramilitary police at polling stations.
Only one incident was reported, with Armenian candidate Rafi Madoyan, an opponent of Interior Minister Michel Murr, alleging that he and aides had been attacked by supporters of the pro-Murr Armenian party Tachnak.
The Armenian minority has six seats in parliament in Lebanon's unique voting system aimed at guarding the ethnic and religious balance, and for the first time this year the Armenian parties' solid pro-government stance has cracked.
Opposition political parties and prominent political figures have criticized what they say is interference by both Lebanese and foreign intelligence services notably those of Syria, in the elections.
Lebanese President Emile Lahoud cast his vote in the country's parliamentary elections in his home town of Baabdat, in the Metn constituency in central Lebanon, telling journalists it was the first time he had ever been able to do so.
Before becoming president in 1998, Lahoud had spent his entire career in the Lebanese army, and members of the armed forces are not allowed to vote for fear that they would be an automatic support to pro-government candidates.
Lahoud called on voters "not to allow themselves to be influenced or bribed ... because a candidate who buys a voter will be quick to drop him after the elections."
He rejected opposition accusations that the state apparatus had interfered in the electoral process.
His son, Emile Lahoud junior, 25, is standing in the elections on the pro-government ticket headed by Murr. The rival ticket in the Metn constituency is headed by a member of another branch of the Lahoud family, outgoing MP Nassib Lahoud.
Voters' Sunday also found themselves invited to cast their ballots for a parallel "referendum" on lowering the voting age from 21st to 18th.
Some 25 non-governmental associations set up shadow polling booths next to the official voting centers, calling on electors to post slips in favour of amending the constitution to bring the voting age in line with the age of majority.
Campaigners sported t-shirts urging "real democracy, the defense of freedoms and the commitment of young people to politics." -- BEIRUT (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)