In an interview with Aljazeera, the speaker of Lebanon's parliament, Nabih Berri, said the turnout in southern Lebanon was in excess of 40%.

The Resistance, Liberation and Development coalition of Hizb Allah and rival Shia movement Amal was set to steamroll the opposition in the south, with a pledge to keep on with the armed resistance against Israel.
  
The pro-Syrian groups, which fought a guerrilla war against a 22-year Israeli occupation, expect to maintain their grip on the south, a volatile region still intermittently rocked by border clashes with Israel.
  
"These elections are a referendum for the choice of the resistance," Amal candidate Ali Bazzi said.

Sunday's vote is the second round of a four-phase election being held barely a month after the last Syrian soldier left Lebanese soil after a 29-year military presence.

Security was tight across southern Lebanon but few voters were seen heading to polling booths after they opened at 7am (0400 GMT).
  
A total of 665,385 voters, aged over 21, are eligible to elect 23 MPs in the south's two constituencies. Voting ended at 6pm.

Mixed turnout

With the two groups also likely to secure other seats in other regions in Lebanon's four-round vote, Amal and Hizb Allah are expected to maintain a total of 17 and 12 MPs respectively in the 128-member parliament.

Three hours after polling stations opened, turnout appeared to be heavier in Shia regions than in Christian and Sunni regions.

Turnout was very low in Christian areas, particularly in the border stretch once occupied by Israel.

Bahia al-Hariri was elected on
a Hizb Allah-sponsored list

Of the 23 seats up for grabs, six candidates from the Hizb Allah-sponsored list have already been elected by default, including Bahia al-Hariri, sister of Rafiq al-Hariri.

Bahia al-Hariri told Aljazeera the Lebanese political reality represents a new stage after Rafiq al-Hariri's assassination.

 

"Now we cannot compare anything to the way it was before 14 February [when Rafiq al-Hariri was assassinated]," she said.

 

"These elections complete all the changes that have quickly happened particularly following the complete Syrian military withdrawal from Lebanon and the renewing of Lebanese political life.

 

She added: "Herein lies the biggest challenge: whether the Lebanese can lead themselves on their own or not."

 

National reconciliation

 

Bahia al-Hariri said the Lebanese people have the ability to face the challenge of leadership in the spirit of national reconciliation.

 

"This reconciliation has extended to all of Lebanon. This is represented in the the elections lists chosen for Jabal Lubnan [Lebanon's mountain], Beirut and other Lebanese areas," she said.  

 

"South Lebanon has
lived a different experience, the experience of deprivation, Israeli occupation, destruction, war and eventually victory"

Bahia al-Hariri,
Lebanese politician

"All these developments did not happen in the wake of the Taif Accord, although it launched the idea of national reconciliation."

 

Bahia al-Hariri said the Lebanese people have now started to implement the Taif Accord in the spirit of national reconciliation and build a modern, developed country and an Arab model. 

 

Speaking of South Lebanon, she said the region was no less politically active than other Lebanese areas such as Beirut.

 

"However, South Lebanon has lived a different experience, the experience of deprivation, Israeli occupation, destruction, war and eventually victory. It is the only Arab area that has achieved unqualified victory over Israel," she said.  

Many challenges

Another winner, Usama Saad, told Aljazeera that the Hizb Allah-Amal alliance would continue to strive for development and liberation.

The Shia sweep of the south was
virtually a verdict foreordained

"Despite the fact that we have won uncontested parliamentary seats, we are very keen to continue battling for our list for resistance, development and liberation. This is important because we face daunting challenges in Lebanon," Saad said.
 
Asked to enumerate the challenges, he said they were US pressure on Lebanon; UN Security Council Resolution 1559, specifically its implications for the Hizb Allah resistance and the Palestinian refugee camps; and political reforms in Lebanon.

He said, however, the country's economic and social problems will top the alliance's agenda.
 
Saad said: "Another important challenge is the need to ensure national unity and cohesion, in order to face the serious divisions that have plagued Lebanon after Rafiq al-Hariri's assassination."