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Lebanon Residents Get Their Say

September 2, 2000

KHIAM, Lebanon (AP) _ Residents of the former Israeli-held zone in southern Lebanon are getting their say in national politics for the first time in nearly three decades, and there’s little doubt who many want to put into parliament: the guerrillas who helped push Israel out.

Parliamentary elections, with voting in southern Lebanon on Sunday following balloting elsewhere in the country the week before, also raise hopes for restoring public services and launching development projects in a long-neglected region.

The guerrillas ``sacrificed their lives and blood to liberate the country,″ and deserve his vote, said Hussein Mansour, a 53-year-old taxi driver from the town of Khiam, four miles north of the Israeli border.

The last parliamentary elections in the border areas were held in 1972. There were no elections in Lebanon as a whole during the 1975-90 civil war, and parliamentary polls in 1992 and 1996 did not include the border areas because of the presence of Israeli troops.

Residents of southern Lebanon were eligible to vote but only outside the occupied zone, and few bothered to travel because of Israeli restrictions. Israeli troops vacated the area in May after an 18-year occupation.

In all, 65 seats are being contested Sunday in the south, Beirut and the eastern Bekaa Valley. The remaining 63 were decided last week in North and Mount Lebanon provinces.

Prime Minister Salim Hoss and former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri were both expected to win seats in Beirut, which would likely set up a battle between them for the premier’s post once parliament is seated.

In the south and east, the dominant Shiite Muslim forces have set aside their struggle for supremacy over the 1.2 million-strong Shiite community and forged an election coalition. The pro-Syrian Amal movement of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah guerrilla group _ riding a wave of popularity for its successful fight against the Israeli troops _ plan to split the 22 seats allocated to Shiites in the region.

``I will vote for the resistance which liberated south Lebanon from Israeli occupation,″ said Fawzieh Ali Haithem, a 60-year-old veiled woman from Khiam.

Fawaz Diba, who works in a restaurant in the Christian town of Marjayoun that was the command headquarters of former Israeli-allied militiamen, said he will ``definitely″ vote _ something he has not done since 1972.

``The election is an important step for the return of the state authority to an area that has been deprived of public services for long years,″ said Diba, 55.

The upset scored last Sunday by candidates backed by Hariri against those considered supported by the government could have an effect on who becomes the next prime minister.

Under Lebanon’s political system, the president selects the prime minister after polling legislators on their choice. The president, now Emile Lahoud, is elected by Parliament for a six-year term.

Little was expected to change in Lebanon’s political landscape, however, since both Hariri and Hoss are close to Syria, which has 30,000 troops in Lebanon and dominates the country militarily and politically.

Although the campaign was short on issues, the results so far reflected public dissatisfaction with the government’s policies, including the handling of an economy in recession.

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