Lebanese papers praise first round of parliamentary elections in Beirut

BBC Monitoring Service - United Kingdom
May 31, 2005

The Lebanese press on 30 May gave a mainly positive reaction to the
first round of polls in the 2005 Lebanese parliamentary elections,
held in the three electoral districts of the capital Beirut on
29 May. One commented that in what it called the "first free
parliamentary elections for 30 years", the results had "produced
national accord". Some said that Beirut had given a ringing endorsement
to the Al-Hariri family - father and son - with one saying that Rafiq
al-Hariri had received more support in death than he had while he
was alive. Others bemoaned the low turnout, in contrast with the
"hundreds of thousands" who took to the streets in the weeks after
Al-Hariri's assassination.

Lebanese newspaper Al-Anwar website carried a commentary by Al-Anwar's
political analyst entitled "It could have been better". The commentary
said: "The spectre of the late martyr Premier Rafiq al-Hariri
was present at the polling stations, which had already determined
the battle and did not require any attempts to pressure [voters] or
falsify [results] as has occurred in the past. Today, there is no need
for all these attempts, because no matter how big they are, they are
incapable of changing the course of the results." The commentary added:
"This election could have been better if the law had been better and
if it had made every voter feel that their vote made a difference;
if that is not achieved, the battle will remain without the desired
level of participation. The first task of the new parliament should
be to wage a new electoral battle that makes every citizen feel a
partner [in the elections] and not feel he is prejudiced against or
that his voice is stifled, and only then can we really say that we
have entered the era of democracy."

"First day of free elections produced national accord"

Al-Mustaqbal newspaper website published a report entitled "Rafiq
al-Hariri's vote unites Beirut; the martyr premier's lists sweep
the three districts and the capital dresses Sa'd in his father's
cloak". The report said: "In the first free parliamentary elections
for 30 years, and following the collapse of the Syrian tutelage
regime in Lebanon, the capital voted yesterday for the entire
national partnership lists drafted by the Christian-Islamic alliance
forces as an embodiment of the significance of 14 March [date of
large-scale opposition rally in Beirut to commemorate 30 days since
the assassination of former Prime Minister Al-Hariri]. These lists won
completely and with major differences, and thus Lebanon has achieved
the first part of its parliamentary elections extending until 19
June, and the capital Beirut has dressed Sa'd al-Hariri in his martyr
father's cloak, as he won 39,500 votes out of 43,000. Thus, it can
remembered that the first day of free elections produced national
accord embodied in lists of unity, and this took place without any
intelligence pressure either in forming the lists or against the voting
forces. Beirut has become the legal 'midwife' for the new Lebanon and
will be dispatching deputies to parliament who will raise its voice
and combine their efforts to [implement] the process of change."

In an analytical report entitled "Victory of the Christian-Islamic
alliance in Beirut is a beginning for its triumph in all Lebanon,"
Nasir al-As'ad wrote: "Beirut, the capital, has had its say. Beirut
has voted for the course with which Sa'd al-Hariri has opened his
political career, the course of national partnership in the lists that
he will pursue after the elections. This is the same course that the
martyr former Premier Rafiq al-Hariri decided to pursue prior to his
assassination, and that could very well have been the main reason for
his assassination. In these elections, the first after the end of the
era of Syrian tutelage, the capital confirmed that it is conscious of
the political pluralism and sectarian diversification present within
it, as Muslims voted for Christians and Christians voted for Muslims,
and the lists that were formed by the political alliances were more
powerful than the electoral law. When the citizens of Beirut wake up
today after the results are declared, they will keep in their mind
the scene of national political partnership that has unified Beirut in
spite of its electoral divisions, and when Sa'd al-Hariri awakes after
a long electoral day, he will be pleased that the victory achieved is
the victory of Christian-Islamic continuity that was forbidden during
the era of the Syrian-Lebanese intelligence and security regime,
and is a victory of lists without 'custodies' or penetrations."

Beirut endorses "Rafiq al-Hariri the Second"

Al-Safir newspaper website carried an editorial by Talal Salman
entitled "Beirut and Second Al-Hariri," in which he wrote: "Rafiq
al-Hariri as a martyr determined the results of the parliamentary
elections in Beirut more than he did when he was in the 'opposition'
five years ago. Today, Beirut gave more to Rafiq al-Hariri the martyr
than it had given him during his life. Beirut gave its vote to Rafiq
al-Hariri the Second to confirm that it has accepted him as a leader
by its will. In the year 2000, Rafiq al-Hariri was unable to employ
his electoral victory in his political project. He triumphed over the
regime and compelled it to accept him as a partner from his position
in the 'opposition', and the regime succumbed and entered into a
partnership with him, but in turn obstructed his project. With Sa'd
al-Hariri, the matter is different. He is coming from the position
of an adversary and is besieging the regime, represented by its top
symbol, through accusation and even conviction. It is impossible to
cooperate with him and it will not be easy to depose him. Rather,
the regime is almost non-existent and without trace in the electoral
process; it has no candidates or voters. The regime is not neutral,
but is incapacitated and rejected. The regime has paid a heavy price
for its mistakes, before and after the mandate extension; it is no
longer an essential part of the rule and has become a negative element,
and it could in future turn into an obstructive element."

Salman concluded: "In yesterday's elections, winning implies preparing
to challenge the difficult conditions that the winner will have
to face with correct decisions and taking into consideration that
there are major partners in this decision. It is no secret that many
view these elections as having taken place by order of international
operations. It is also no secret that the US ambassador in Beirut was
not content with his public and open role in managing the political
game, but personally arrived at several polling stations to 'reassure
his heart' that all was proceeding according to the set plan, even
if he did seem as though he was violating protocol and exceeding his
duties as a foreign ambassador!"

International observers show "solidarity" with Lebanese

In a commentary by Sati Nur-al-Din published under the "Last Station"
column, the commentator wrote: "The international observers positioned
throughout Beirut were not carrying out a traditional monitoring
task. They were performing an exceptional mission of guardianship
over the first election process witnessed by Lebanon since the Syrian
military departed from its territories. However, the message did not
reach the voters or the candidates, inasmuch as it reached across the
Lebanese borders. The international community's interest in attending
now, more than any other time, is a form of solidarity with the
Lebanese in confronting the major absentee from this battle, Syria."

Al-Diyar newspaper website published a report entitled "Wakim: We are
running an election in confrontation with the US project." The report
cited candidate Najah Wakim sharply criticizing the interior minister
and accusing him of being "an employee of the Al-Hariri family". Wakim
added that "the electoral battle today is between the list of former
Premier Rafiq al-Hariri that was formed at the US embassy, and the
list of the Lebanese people of which he is a part." Wakim stressed:
"We do not believe that these elections represent a referendum for
the [political] agenda of former Premier Rafiq al-Hariri, but rather
that it is primarily a referendum for the United States' policies in
Lebanon" and he questioned whether "the people are with the blood of
the martyrs who liberated Lebanon or with the US embassy?"

Only real competition said to be in second district

Another Lebanese newspaper, Sada al-Balad website, carried a
report by Ali al-Amin entitled "Hezbollah proved its commitment to
Al-Hariri and Wakim lost". The report said: "The electoral battle
in Beirut was confined to the second district in terms of electoral
and political competition; it was confined to winning by default in
the first district; and it was marked by the Christian boycott in
all districts." Al-Amin added: "What was significant in the second
district was Hezbollah's full commitment to supporting the complete
list of Al-Hariri in spite of fears by some of the supporters of
the Al-Mustaqbal Movement that Hezbollah would not commit itself
to casting ballots for the complete list. The party was sincere in
not voting for the president of the Peoples' Movement, Najah Wakim,
and obliged Hezbollah supporters not to vote for Wakim; in addition,
high level contacts were made with the Amal Movement to make sure that
Amal also supported Al-Hariri's complete list. Hezbollah succeeded
in confirming its political alliance with the Al-Mustaqbal Movement
after it had confirmed its electoral alliance and demonstrated that
what linked the party to Sa'd al-Hariri and the alliances in the
three districts surpassed any link with Wakim. Thus, Hezbollah and
the Al-Mustaqbal Movement were successful in preventing Wakim from
receiving the votes that would qualify him to enter parliament."

"All eyes on Syria" to confirm that "it abstained from voting"

In a commentary by Tony Francis entitled "Observers," Francis wrote:
"There is no significance to the presence of international and European
observers except that Lebanon has reconciled itself with the world and
the world has placed Lebanon under observation since the issuance of
[UN] Resolution 1559. International observers entered the door of the
Lebanese elections not to seek better laws for popular representation
or to guarantee better voting under better opportunities, but to
confirm that the international resolution to perform elections on
schedule and without Syrian interference would be executed." Francis
concluded: "The observers' eyes are not on the ballot boxes, or on
the voters, or on the candidates, or on the law that prompted one
third of Beirut's residents not to participate in yesterday's polls,
but all eyes are on Syria since it is the 'absent voter' and [all wish]
to confirm that it abstained from voting this time."

Election result "marred" by low turnout

English-language newspaper The Daily Star website carried a report by
Nayla Assaf entitled "Al-Hariri makes clean sweep in Beirut polls but
victory marred by lowest election turnout in years." The report said:
"Sa'd al-Hariri made a clean sweep in the first stage of the country's
elections, but the start of Lebanon's first free elections in more than
30 years was marred by a very low voter turnout of just 28 per cent,
the smallest participation in an election in 13 years." The report
added: "Yesterday's voter apathy is in stark contrast to the euphoric
scenes earlier this year when hundreds of thousands of Lebanese
took to the streets following the assassination of [former Premier]
Rafiq al-Hariri in a show of unity to oppose Syria and Lebanon's
pro-Damascus government. The Beirut polls have still to be followed
by other districts and it remains to be seen if yesterday's turnout
represents a blip because Al-Hariri was virtually assured of victory,
or whether it will be repeated across the country. In Christian areas,
turnout was even less, hitting a low of 10 and 11 per cent in some
areas. Prior to the election, Christian opposition politicians had
criticized the legal framework for the polls, insisting it failed to
properly represent Christian voters."

In an editorial in the same paper entitled "From euphoria to apathy:
Lebanese no longer care who stays or goes," the paper said: "Given
all the excitement with which the international community has watched
to see the start of Lebanon's 'free and fair' elections, how can one
explain the terrible lack of enthusiasm for voting among the Lebanese,
as demonstrated by low voter turnout in the first round of polls
in Beirut? Two phenomena can explain the lack of euphoria. First,
the public has rejected an attempt on the part of politicians to
create a conditioned sense of loyalty to slain former Premier Rafiq
al-Hariri. By not going to the polls, the people were saying that they
did not need to be reminded to do what they have already accomplished
on the streets. The second reason for the low turnout is the alliance
of bad bedfellows that saw Hezbollah join an electoral list with the
Lebanese Forces and Speaker Nabih Birri's Amal movement. Hezbollah
Secretary-General Hasan Nasrallah said that the alliance was formed to
thwart US interference and [US] attempts to disarm the resistance. In
doing so, Nasrallah disconnected politics from the issues that the
people were championing on the streets."

In an analytical report by Adnan al-Ghul entitled "First round of
voting exposes Al-Hariri's weakness," the writer said: "Dashing the
Al-Hariri's camp's hopes for a high voter turnout, the Armenian Tashnag
Party and General Michel Awn's Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) actively
promoted boycotting Beirut's elections, effectively ensuring deserted
polling stations in the capital's Christian-dominated areas. The low
Christian turnout and relatively active Muslim participation was
sufficient to expose the Al-Hariri-led coalition's true weakness,
regardless of whether Al-Hariri achieves the expected sweep of the
capital's 19 seats."

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress