A supporter of exiled Christian Lebanese leader Michel Aoun made a striking comeback in his first by-election challenge in Lebanon, coming second to a candidate supported by pro-Syrian parties, according to official results.
Aoun, a former military general, vowed to return from France, where he has been living since he was ousted in a 1990 Syrian-led offensive, to stand in the next legislative elections, expected to be held in 2005.
Henri Helou, an Attorney-at-Law, succeeded his recently deceased father in parliament, beating Aoun's candidate - Hikmat Deeb by just 3,276 votes in Sunday's poll, but turnout was only a bit over 20 percent for the Maronite Christian seat in the Baabda-Aley district, east of the capital of Beirut.
Helou was backed by Druze leader Walid Jumblat along with the main powers in the Shiite Muslim community-Hizbullah and Speaker Berri's Amal movement.
"We consider that the result was a victory for us regardless of who won the parliamentary seat," Aoun told Lebanon's As Safir daily, whose front page headline read, "Helou deputy with 28,000 votes and Deeb a 'winner' with 25,000 votes."
"I will return to Lebanon and I will participate in the next legislative elections," he added.
Beirut dailies agreed that Deeb was the real winner of the poll, as An Nahar wrote Monday, "Helou Wins Parliamentary Seat, But Aoun Gains Political Clout."
This marked the first time that a supporter of exiled leader Aoun had directly stood for election for his Free National Current, which has always refused to recognise the Syrian-imposed government in Lebanon after the end of the 1990 war.
The by-elections were held to replace former government minister and parliament member Pierre Helou, who died last month from a brain haemorrhage after collapsing during a live television show.
Deeb, an engineer and an FNC activist, was jailed during a crackdown in August 2001 that saw 200 Christian activists opposed to Syria's military presence and political dominance in Lebanon imprisoned. (Albawaba.com)
© 2003 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com )