With 23 seats up for grabs in the south of the country, political analysts are predicting an alliance between former rival Shia groups Hizb Allah and Amal will sweep Sunday's polls.

The alliance betwen Hizb Allah, which spearheaded a military campaign that drove Israel out of Lebanon in May 2000, and Amal leaves little room for competition for candidates outside their ticket. 

Nevertheless, Hizb Allah and Amal leaders have urged people to turn out in high numbers at the polls as a show of support to the resistance against Israel amid international pressure to disarm Hizb Allah.

 

There are more than 670,000 eligible voters in South Lebanon.

 

Against UN Resolution 1559

 

"We want to go in large numbers and vote for the list backed by Hizb Allah and Amal to tell the whole world that we are against UN Resolution 1559, which calls on the disarmament of Hizb Allah," said Hussein Hajj, 26, a prospective voter in the southern city of Tyre.

Lebanese are being asked to vote
in large numbers on Sunday

 

The UN resolution calls on Lebanese and non-Lebanese militia - a reference to Hizb Allah and Palestinian groups in Lebanon - to disarm.

 

But Hizb Allah says it is a resistance group - not militia - and it wants to liberate the Shebaa Farms, a disputed area along the borders between Lebanon, Syria and Israel.

 

It also says that it wants to protect Lebanon from any possible Israeli attack on the country.

 

"No one can guarantee that Israel won't attack Lebanon again," said Hajj, an Amal supporter. "That's why we want Hizb Allah to keep its arms. Only the resistance is able to prevent Israeli aggressions on Lebanon, because Israelis know that the resistance would retaliate immediately if they dared to attack us."

 

A message to the US

 

A Hizb Allah candidate, Hassan Hubballah, told a rally in the southern village of Bisseriyeh on Thursday night that the expected sweeping victory for the Hizb Allah-Amal list shouldn't stop people from making the effort and casting their votes.

 

"Some people might say that there's no need to vote because the outcome is known," Hubballah said.

 

"But this time is different from previous years. Voting for the list is a message to the US that it won't be able to get anything from Lebanon, because the resistance here is embraced by all the people."

 

Student Fatmeh Hassan, 21, said she and her family and friends would all vote for the Hizb Allah-Amal list so that the US would see that the majority of the Lebanese support the resistance.

 

"Since the US promotes democracy in the Arab world, then it will have to stop calling for Hizb Allah's disarmament when it sees that we - the majority - want the resistance to keep its arms," she said.

 

Christian boycott

 

In the Christian town of Jezzine, however, many people are boycotting the elections in response to a call from prominent Christian figures in the area.

Some Christians have promised
to boycott the elections

 

As a result, two Christian candidates representing Jezzine and running on the Hizb Allah-Amal ticket won uncontested.

"Casting votes does not make a democracy," said Edmond Rizk, a former justice minister and former MP from Jezzine.

 

Like other Christian politicians in the country, Rizk complained about the electoral law that divided Lebanon into large electoral districts that he said favoured the Muslim majority.

 

He criticized Hizb Allah and Amal for choosing two candidates to run the elections representing Jezzine "without bothering to even consult with the people of Jezzine".

 

"My vote won't make any difference, and therefore, I have no voice. That's why I'm boycotting the elections," said George Karam, 28, who decided to heed boycott calls.

 

Punishment?

 

"They are punishing us for our past by making our voice unheard," said a former Israeli-backed South Lebanon Army (SLA) soldier, who preferred to stay anonymous.

 

Jezzine was part of the zone occupied by Israel and constituted a 'hot' frontline, with more than 200 SLA soldiers from that area killed by Hizb Allah attacks until it was liberated in June 1999.

 

"I was forced to conscript in the SLA and now I'm considered a former collaborator," he said.

 

But Pierre Serhal, a Jezzine candidate on the Hizb Allah-Amal list who won unopposed, told Aljazeera.net that his collaboration with Hizb Allah was for the "well-being" of the people of Jezzine.

 

"We live in an unstable country and we should maintain good relations with our neighbours, who are mainly Shia," he said.

 

Serhal lashed out at those criticising him for allying himself with the Islamic group.

 

"Jezzine is not an isolated island. It is surrounded by a majority of Shia. What shall we do? Be hostile to them? Anyone who thinks so is crazy," he said. 

 

"The people of Jezzine cannot but adopt a moderate approach and cooperate with their neighbours," Serhal added.

 

Forming alliances

 

The newly elected MP said he had the right to run on the Hizb Allah-Amal list just as Solange Gemayel, the widow of President Bashir Gemayel, ran on the powerful list headed by Saad al-Hariri, the son of slain premiere Rafiq al-Hariri, in the Beirut elections last Sunday.

Solange Gemayel, a Christian,
ran on a mostly Muslim list

 

Some voters in Jezzine, who supported the Hizb Allah and Amal-backed Christian candidates, said they would vote for the entire list, "because it's the list representing co-existence between Christians and Muslims", as George Rohayyim, a grocery shop owner, put it.

 

When asked how he felt about the bitterness among many Christians regarding the elections, Hossam Krayyim, a Shia from the neighbouring village of Kfar Houna, said: "The majority here are Shia and when MPs are elected by the majority, it is a democratic process."

 

But Krayyim, who is a municipality member in the mixed Christian-Shia village, justified why Hizb Allah and Amal had to choose a Christian candidate themselves.

 

"If we leave it up to the Christians, they might choose a candidate who would refrain from supporting the resistance in Parliament. With the massive international pressure on Hizb Allah to disarm, we have to make sure to elect MPs who support the resistance."