Lebanon Set for Parliamentary Elections

Lebanon is preparing for parliamentary elections Sunday. A slate of candidates led by the son of the slain former prime minister Rafik Hariri is expected to win. Hariri urged Lebanon to rid itself of Syrian influence.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

In Beirut, voters are heading to the polls tomorrow for the first of four phases of parliamentary elections. This will be the first vote in Lebanon since Syria ended its 30-year military occupation of that country last month. NPR's Ivan Watson reports from Beirut.

IVAN WATSON reporting:

Three months ago, a massive car bomb killed Rafik al-Hariri, Lebanon's most popular Sunni Muslim politician. Today, his son Saad has taken over Hariri's political party. Downtown Beirut is now decorated with giant portraits of the two Hariris standing together. And Saad Hariri frequently invokes his father's name at campaign rallies like this one.

(Soundbite of people at a rally)

Mr. SAAD HARIRI (Sunni Muslim Politician): Rafik Hariri!

WATSON: Though the 35-year-old is a political novice, he leads a slate of candidates that is expected to easily win at the polls tomorrow. Tim Argoxo(ph), a former United Nations peacekeeper, says in Lebanon, politics are still very much a family-run affair.

Mr. TIM ARGOXO (Former UN Peacekeeper): This family is like father to son, and it's basically a very rudimentary feudal system.

WATSON: Almost all of Lebanon's political parties break down along the lines of the country's 18 different religious sects. After the elder Hariri's assassination, some of these groups put aside rivalries that date back to the civil war. Buoyed by popular outrage, they staged massive street protests, demanding an end to neighboring Syria's political and military domination of Lebanon. But with Syria's soldiers now gone, Hariri and others in the anti-Syrian camp have made electoral alliances with some of Syria's closest Lebanese allies, including the powerful Shiite movement, Hezbollah.

Mr. JAMIL MROUWWE (The Daily Star): It just became a very straight, crude process of horse trading.

WATSON: Jamil Mrouwwe is the publisher of Beirut's Daily Star newspaper.

Mr. MROUWWE: The people who, as I said, recently emerged from a submerged state of citizenry to really a very robust expression of their Lebanese citizenship felt really deceived.

WATSON: Yale Emsele(ph), a university student who participated in the demonstrations, says he was disgusted when he learned the widow of a former Christian warlord was running unopposed for one of Beirut's parliamentary seats.

Mr. YALE EMSELE (University Student): We received the same families, political families since my father and grandfather. Nothing has changed and instead of starting a new beginning, we are doing the same thing whether the Syrians are here or not.

WATSON: Jabron Tuwaini(ph) is one of the few first-time parliamentary candidates running on Hariri's slate. He agrees that the passions that inspired at least a million Lebanese to take to the streets have faded.

Mr. JABRON TUWAINI (First-time Parliamentary Candidate): The momentum have changed. But what we have to do now is just to say to these people who demonstrated that the oath of freedom and the oath of, you know, unity--we shall be able to defend it through the parliament and made their dream come true.

WATSON: With just one day to go before elections, parliamentary candidate Saad Hariri made an unexpected predawn flight from Beirut to Saudi Arabia on what an aide described as a private visit. The Hariris are close to the Saudi royal family. The ruler of Saudi Arabia, King Fahd, was hospitalized on Friday. Ivan Watson, NPR News, Beirut.

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: And the time is 18 minutes past the hour.

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