Lebanese voters will head to the polls in the third round of parliamentary elections amid fierce electoral battles between rival anti-Syrian opposition groups.
Thirty-five seats are up for grabs in the central Mount Lebanon voting district and another 23 seats in the eastern Bekaa Valley.
The polls are the third stage of elections held shortly after a Syrian troop withdrawal from the country in April.
The final stage of voting is scheduled for 19 June.
The Baabda-Aley district in the mountains is set to pit the fiercest electoral battle between a list backed by anti-Syrian Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, who won unopposed in the Chouf district, and another backed by anti-Syrian Christian leader Michel Aoun, a formerly exiled general.
Jumblatt's Progressive Socialist Party has allied with former foe, jailed Christian leader Samir Geagea's Lebanese Forces, slain Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri's Future Movement and the Shia resistance movement Hizb Allah.
But Aoun has chosen to forge an alliance with Jumblatt's traditional pro-Syrian Druze rival Talal Erslan.
Aoun, who waged a "war of liberation" against Syrian troops in Lebanon in 1989, has also allied with other leading pro-Syrian figures in different areas in the country after falling out with the rest of the opposition groups.
His alliances included former influential interior minister Michel Murr in Mount Lebanon's Upper Metn district, former minister Elias Skaff in the Bekaa's Zahle district and former interior minister Suleiman Franjieh in the last round of elections that will be held in the north next week.
Aoun has angered many by
allying with pro-Syrian groups
Political analyst Samir Mansour described such alliances as "contradictory," saying that the former army commander should maintain his credibility by announcing that these alliances were temporary and solely serving electoral purposes.
"All of Aoun's political rhetoric was against Syria and the Lebanese officials cooperating with Syria. And now he's allying himself to the same people he strongly criticized in the past," said Mansour.
Aoun has also formed the "Change and Reform List" in Mount Lebanon's Kesrwan-Byblos district in which he himself is running along with other candidates against the "Unity of the Opposition List," which is backed by all other opposition groups.
The Unity of the Opposition List includes candidates from the Christian Lebanese Forces (headed by jailed Christian leader Samir Geagea), the Christian Qornet Shehwan Gathering (embraced by Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir), the Phalange Reform Movement (headed by former President Amin Gemayel) and the Future Movement (headed by Saad al-Hariri, the son of the slain prime minister).
Aoun's alliances, however, have prompted sharp criticism from prominent opposition figures, such as Jumblatt who accused Aoun in a live interview on a local television station of "trying to destroy the opposition since his return" to Lebanon on May 7 after 14 years of exile.
"The last thing we've expected from Michel Aoun to do is collaborate with the state"
Christian National Liberal Party leader
Even Aoun's staunchest ally, the Christian National Liberal Party leader Dori Chamoun, lashed out at the former army commander saying: "The last thing we've expected from Michel Aoun to do is collaborate with the state."
Chamoun also said in a press conference on Friday: "It's clear now that the state's (security) apparatuses are working for Aoun and his candidates."
Aoun, however, responded by saying that the opposition groups were threatened by his return and were trying to undermine him.
He accused Jumblatt and slain prime minister al-Hariri of "collaborating with Syria for years," saying they only turned against Syria because they disagreed with President Emile Lahoud and did not want an extension of his term.
Lahoud stays on
The Lebanese Parliament bowed to Syrian wishes last September and amended the constitution to enable Lahoud, a staunch ally to Syria, to keep his post for another three years.
The constitution was amended to
extend Lahoud's (L) presidency
The extension of Lahoud's term prompted the United Nations Security Council to adopt Resolution 1559, which called on Syria to pull out its troops from Lebanon and to end its dominance over its smaller neighbour's domestic affairs.
It also called for the disarmament of Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias, a reference to Hizb Allah and Palestinian factions.
Hizb Allah rejects international calls to disarm, saying 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.
Hizb Allah's alliances
That is why Hizb Allah is making an effort to garner support to its military wing in the new parliament by forging alliances with groups that it believes will back the resistance, according to newly elected Hizb Allah MP Hassan Hubballah, who represents the southern city of Tyre.
Hizb Allah is cementing ties with
groups supporting the resistance
Hubballah told Aljazeera.net that his party turned down an offer to join Aoun's list in Mount Lebanon's Baabda-Aley district by fielding two Hizb Allah candidates to fill the two seats allocated for the Shia in that district.
Hizb Allah joined Jumblatt's ticket instead, and fielded only one candidate, Ali Ammar. The other Shia candidate was pro-al-Hariri Bassem Sabeh.
"We prefer to have one less seat than to lose Jumblatt and his parliamentary bloc's position that supports the resistance," Hubballah explained.
"Aoun has failed to give us a clear position regarding the resistance," he said.