Young men and women drove wildly along Beirut's streets on Sunday, honking their cars and carrying pictures of Saad al-Hariri and Rafiq.


The celebrations came during the first of four stages of Lebanon's parliamentary elections that are being held without the presence of Syrian troops for the first time in three decades.


Dania Saadi, who flew to Beirut from Dubai recently to vote, said she felt she had to take a clear stand against Syria by casting a ballot.

A vote against Syria

Many Lebanese blame Syria for al-Hariri's killing, but no evidence has been produced to back up the accusations.


"Through voting (for al-Hariri), all of Beirut will be saying that it is against Syria and is for al-Hariri," said Saadi.


"Through voting (for al-Hariri), all of Beirut will be saying that it is against Syria and is for al-Hariri"

Dania Saadi, Lebanese voter

Al-Hariri's assassination led to an enormous public outcry and international and local pressure which led to the withdrawal of Syrian troops from the country.


However, al-Hariri's opponents accuse him of manipulating heightened emotions to bring people to his side.


Opportunists victory?

"They are taking advantage of al-Hariri's death to reach their objectives," MP Adnan Araqji told Aljazeera.net.

"I knew [Rafiq] al-Hariri very well. He would never have used other people's grief to serve his own interests," said Araqji, who ran on Rafiq al-Hariri's list in the year 2000.

 

Araqji and another three MPs were excluded from Saad al-Hariri's list this year because of their close relations with Syria.


Araqji also accused the United States, France and Israel of planning to get people elected who would favour resistance group Hizb Allah's disarmament.


There are other groups who share similar views with Araqji.


Foreign influence

Hasan Olleiq, 27, a member in the leftist People's Movement, said he believed the Americans were wielding a lot of influence in the elections.

"The elections used to be prepared in [the eastern city of] Anjar (where the former Syrian intelligence headquarters were located), but now they are prepared in Awkar (the area just north of Beirut where the US embassy is located)," he said.


Olleiq said al-Hariri's list includes "weird contradictions".

"You cannot but feel the presence of an unusual force behind such a list," Olleiq said citing as an example the inclusion of Solange Gemayel, the widow of former President Bashir Gemayel, in al-Hariri's list.

Election questioned

"We all know what Bashir was like," he said in reference to the former president's cooperation with Israel during the Israeli invasion of Beirut in 1982.


Turnout for the 4 stage vote may
not have been as high as expected

"Solange Gemayel could only be included on al-Hariri's list due to US pressure."

 

Earlier this month, Saad al-Haruri came under enormnous pressure from the influential Maronite Patriarch Nasr Allah Butros Sfeir to replace a moderate Maronite and an al-Hariri ally, Ghattas Khouri, with Solange Gemayel, who is favoured by the Christians.

There has also been controversy over the fairness of the electoral system.


Christian bishops and groups have campaigned against the law because it divides Lebanon into large electoral districts that they say favour the Muslim majority.

New electoral law

Gemayel and Gebran Tueini, who is also running on al-Hariri's list and is a member of a Christian opposition group, have announced that the first issue which they will raise in Parliament will be the adoption of a new electoral law.

But Tueini, a prominent anti-Syrian journalist, criticised calls by Christian opposition leader Michel Aoun to boycott the elections in Beirut, saying that the list should be acceptable to Christians because it included diverse candidates.


Activists from Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement spent the day giving out flyers urging people to boycott the elections.


But the deputy chief observer at the European Union's Election Observation Mission, Riccardo Chelleri, said in an interview with Aljazeera net: "So far, the elections look well-organised."


Political disadvantages

However, the expected landslide victory for al-Hariri's list could have negative consequences.


"The magnitude of the victory (in Beirut) might discourage potential candidates in other regions," Chelleri said.


Dozens of candidates have pulled out from the Beirut poll in recent weeks.

Chelleri said he had spoken with them and said they did so  "partly because of the electoral law and also because they felt they couldn't win against al-Hariri's list".


Limited choices

"I don't feel excited about the elections because very few candidates are still running and the results are clear to everyone"

Fadia Saab, lebenese voters

This has left Beirut with very few candidates and some voters expressed their disappointment over the limited choices they had.


"People should have a choice when they go to cast their votes," said Lama Rashed outside a polling station.

Other eligible voters agreed. "I don't feel excited about the elections because very few candidates are still running and the results are clear to everyone," Fadia Saab said.


However, Tueini, who is running the elections on al-Hariri's list, insisted on the significance of people's participation even if the outcome was clear.

"I think this election is a sort of referendum in support Beirut's unity," said Tueini. "And that's why we should take part in it.