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Lebanon Election (Part A)
Lebanon is in the process of holding its first general elections for more than 30 years without the heavy shadow of a Syrian military presence over much of the country. The Syrians pulled out in April, after huge demonstrations in Beirut -- and international condemnation -- following the assassination of the former Prime Minister, Rafiq Hariri. His death and the recent killing of a prominent anti-Syrian journalist, Samir Kassir, have been blamed by many Lebanese on Syria - a charge the Syrians have strongly denied.
The first round of the elections was held last Sunday in Beirut and over the next few weeks there'll be voting in other parts of the country. Jim Muir, for many years the BBC's correspondent in Lebanon, has been considering how much has changed -- and how much hasn't.
This is an election dominated by the martyrs and ghosts of the past. In the first round of voting, for the 19 Beirut seats, it was the newest martyr, the Sunni Muslim former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri, whose image was everywhere, and who swept all before him. Mr Hariri died instantly on February the 14th when his motorcade was caught in a massive explosion which, rightly or wrongly, was instantly and instinctively blamed by most Lebanese on the Syrians. It triggered the huge demonstrations that brought together hundreds of thousands of people in Beirut with one single demand: Syria, out.
The list put together by Rafiq al-Hariri's son and political heir, Saad, steamrollered the Beirut elections, taking every single seat. The young Saad, just 35, has no political experience at all -- he was running his billionaire father's company in Saudi Arabia when he was suddenly pitch forked into this new life. Because the result was a foregone conclusion, the turnout was low - 27 per cent overall, though quite a bit higher among Sunni voters, many of whom felt it a duty to pay this last act of allegiance to their biggest martyr, whose picture, with or without young Saad, was all over Beirut.
But Rafiq al-Hariri is far from being the only martyr whose memory is running in these elections. On the same coalition list for Beirut was Solange Gemayel. Her husband Beshir, who commanded the main Christian militia at the time, was elected President with Israeli help in 1982, only to die under the rubble of his party headquarters when it was demolished by a huge bomb just a few weeks later.
Another presidential widow is running in the final round of voting, in the north of the country. Nayla Muawwad's husband Rene was elected president just after the peace agreement for Lebanon was reached in Taif, Saudi Arabia, in 1989. He too only survived a few weeks, before he was blown to smithereens in a massive car bomb blast in Beirut.