Lebanon's former prime minister Rafik Hariri scored a landslide victory in Sunday's parliamentary elections, capturing all of Beirut's seats after a fierce battle that narrowed the president's choices for the next premier, reported the Daily Star newspaper.
Hariri's striking triumph sealed a general pro-opposition trend that marked the 2000 polls in North Lebanon and Mount Lebanon, said the paper.
Beirut's race culminated in a number of surprises the ouster of traditional families from the political scene, the emergence of Hariri as Beirut's unrivalled 'zaim,' and the arrival of Ghinwa Jalloul to Parliament the first time the capital has elected a woman, added the paper.
Despite his known reservations about Hariri, President Emile Lahoud suggested that MPs would have a decisive say in the choice of the new premier, according to the paper.
"It's an electoral massacre, it's a political earthquake," Hariri's campaigners shouted as vote counts began pouring in.
The elections in Beirut were marked by a brisk turnout of Sunni voters and poor participation by Christians, Armenians and Shiites.
All told, 40 percent of Beirut's 397,000 eligible voters cast their votes. Unofficial results underlined unprecedented loyalty of the Sunni community to the former prime minister, trouncing incumbent MPs Salim Hoss and Tammam Salam, who had long dominated the capital's political scene, the paper said.
Hariri's campaign machine claimed a clean sweep, although some observers argued that the actual score was 18 out of 19.
In District Two, he had left a Shiite seat vacant to accommodate Hizbollah's Mohammed Berjawi, who wound up figuring on both Hariri's list and Salam's rival National Accord ticket.
This unusual phenomenon split the Shiite votes between the two.
Hariri's Dignity Lists competed in all three districts, while Hoss and Salam headed one ticket each. Ironically, Interior Minister Michel Murr had admitted that Beirut was carved up into three electoral districts to prevent a Hariri sweep.
The next phase will see the designation of a new prime minister, a process likely to include Syrian intervention to reduce the friction that has marred Lahoud's relations with Hariri, according to the paper.
Soon after the voting ended at 6pm, Lahoud released a statement praising the elections as a "model" of democracy.
He referred to the "next big event" of designating a premier, promising to abide by "the Constitution."
Hariri's excuse for declining to form the first Cabinet under Lahoud was what he described as a constitutional violation in the president's consultations with MPs.
The paper said that in all three districts, Hariri and his allies appeared to have secured double the votes cast in favor of their rivals.
Election day was relatively trouble-free in Beirut.
One voter was stabbed but otherwise, there were no serious problems.
But administrative hiccups resulted in a number of voters either receiving their electoral cards late, or not at all, said the Daily Star.
Others who had been issued voter cards arrived at polling stations to find their names were not on the voter lists - Albawaba.com
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com )