With half the votes counted in Sunday's second and final phase of legislative elections in Lebanon, former prime minister Rafiq Hariri appears to have swept all 19 seats in the capital Beirut, according to an allied candidate.
"We are almost assured of sweeping the seats at stake in the capital," a candidate on one of the three slates backed by Hariri told AFP.
Less than three hours after the 6:00 p.m. (1500 GMT) closing of the polls, Hariri was already being congratulated by thousands of his supporters outside his home.
With more than 60 percent of votes counted in Beirut, Hariri-backed candidates were leading their opponents by between 4,000 and 10,000 votes. One exception was current Prime Minister Salim Hoss, who was only 3,500 votes behind his opponent.
But turnout in Beirut was very low at 30 percent, Interior Minister Michel Murr announced.
He said final results should not be expected before late Monday evening.
Turnout ran between 18 and 30 percent in Christian quarters and reached its maximum in Mazraa, with 51 percent, the minister told the press.
In southern and eastern Lebanon, turnout was 45 percent.
Participation in the first phase of the elections, last Sunday, was 56 percent in the Christian region of Metn and 46 percent in the north.
Meanwhile, President Emile Lahoud said consultations on forming a new government will begin when the newly elected MPs take office, which is planned for mid-October.
"These consultations will take place in conformity with the constitution and will adhere to the laws and institutions that rule us all in Lebanon, beginning with the head of state," Lahoud said.
The run-up to the election had been marked by a vicious media campaign, with the official media accusing Hariri of plunging the country into a bottomless economic crisis and running up debts that will total 25 billion dollars at the end of 2000.
Lahoud himself strongly criticized what he said was the "corruption" of the two successive governments headed by Hariri, who refused to form a government under Lahoud when he took office in 1998, claiming constitutional differences -- BEIRUT (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com )