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Lebanese Vote in Marred Elections

August 27, 2000

BAABDAT, Lebanon (AP) _ With security forces guarding towns and polling stations in central and northern Lebanon, Lebanese voted for parliamentary representatives Sunday in an election sure to pack the legislature with pro-Syrian representatives.

As is typical of elections held since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war, there were limited complaints about irregularities, including the presence of uncertified ballots, the absence of names on voters’ lists, forged voter registration cards and the lack of secrecy in casting ballots leaving voters open to intimidation.

Despite the complaints, the polling was peaceful and smooth.

The capital Beirut and the eastern and southern provinces will vote next Sunday. It will be the first time in nearly three decades that southern regions near the border with Israel will vote, an event made possible by the Israeli withdrawal from a border buffer zone in May.

In Sunday’s voting, some 286 candidates _ most of whom had Syria’s tacit approval _ contested 63 seats in the 128-member legislature for the provinces of Mount Lebanon and North Lebanon, the Christian heartland where 1.3 million Lebanese over the age of 21 were eligible to vote. Polling stations in Mount Lebanon’s four electoral districts and the North’s three districts opened at 7 a.m. and closed at 6 p.m.

Right-wing Christian groups had called for a boycott of the elections to protest what they described as Syria’s packaging of the ballot to ensure a loyal parliament.

But their call went largely unheeded, and the voting is expected to ensure a four-year parliament packed with pro-Syrians. Syria is the main power in Lebanon with 30,000 troops deployed across the country.

Initial results were expected as early as Monday morning.

About 10,000 soldiers on Sunday manned checkpoints and major road intersections or patrolled in armored vehicles to ensure violence-free balloting. Police were in charge inside polling stations. Weapons licenses were canceled and about 120 people have been arrested for violating the ban. All nightclubs and restaurants in Mount Lebanon and the North have been ordered closed.

In the Armenian quarter of Bourj Hammoud, opponents mobbed the car of an Armenian candidate on a list headed by legislator Nassib Lahoud, a former ambassador to Washington battling against Interior Minister Michel Murr.

President Emile Lahoud was among the morning voters, casting his ballot at a polling station in the post office at his Mount Lebanon hometown of Baabdat, 10 miles northeast of Beirut.

``I am proud,″ a beaming Lahoud told reporters later. ``This is the first time I’ve voted in my life,″ said Lahoud, a 64-year-old former army commander who could not vote in the past because of military regulations.

Lahoud called on voters not to be swayed by the influence of money. ``He who buys you can sell you. ... Vote your conscience,″ said Lahoud, a Maronite Catholic.

``I voted for the good people,″ George Massoud, a 70-year-old grocer said as he opened his store for business after casting his ballot in Baabdat.

Druse leader Walid Jumblatt charged that the government was heavily involved on the side of his challengers. ``They are hysterical. They lost their nerve,″ he said of the campaign against him in the Chouf district.

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Editor’s Note: Associated Press Writer Joseph Panossian contributed to this report.

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