Sunday's vote in the central and eastern regions - together accounting for nearly half the 128 seats in parliament - is too close to call, and the winners could decide the country's political direction for the next four years.

 

Lebanon's opposition hopes these parliamentary elections - being held in four stages through 19 June - will end Syrian control of the legislature once and for all.

 

While the race in most of Lebanon is largely between pro- and anti-Syrian camps, the central and eastern areas have thrown up surprising alliances between pro- and anti-Syrians.

 

The vote in central Mount Lebanon, the nation's most populous region, has been billed as the "mother of all battles", with friends and foes running against each other in a jumble of baffling alliances.

 

Tensions

 

Political tensions have already spilled over into violence. The government sent army and police reinforcements to Mount Lebanon fearing clashes between rival groups, mainly allies of Druze figure Walid Jumblatt and those supporting former army commander Michel Aoun, who returned home last month after 14 years in exile.

 

Michel Aoun is in alliance with a
pro-Syrian bloc

Aoun, who fought and lost a war against Syria in 1989, was one of Syria's main Lebanese foes but recently broke with other opponents of Damascus and forged alliances with pro-Syrian politicians.

 

Last week, a gun battle in the mountain resort of Sofar between Jumblatt's supporters and those of Druze rival - and Aoun ally - Talal Arslan left at least seven people wounded.


In the Baabda-Aley constituency, the Aoun-Arslan alliance is fighting a ticket backed by Jumblatt's Progressive Socialist Party and the Lebanese Forces, the main Christian militia during Lebanon's civil war, as well as the Syrian-backed resistance group Hizb Allah. The battle is too close to call.

 

Battle


In the Chouf area, the Druze heartland, a Jumblatt-Lebanese Forces ticket is expected to do well, while rival Christian tickets are battling it out in the Christian heartland of Kesrwan-Byblos.


In Metn, Aoun has forged an alliance with pro-Syrian politician Michael Murr and Armenian political party Tashnag, against an anti-Syrian ticket headed by legislator
Nassib Lahoud and Pierre Gemayel, son of former President Amin Gemayel.


"I will go out and vote tomorrow for the Mount Lebanon Unity list because it is a united list representing Muslims and Christians"

Imad Najm,
barber

In the Bekaa, where 23 seats are being contested, Hizb Allah and its allies are expected to win in the Baalbek-Hermel constituency, while in the western Bekaa
district a tough race is expected between a ticket backed by Saad al-Hariri, son of the assassinated former prime minister, and a pro-Syrian alliance.


In central Bekaa around the provincial capital of Zahle, an alliance of traditional leader Elie Skaff and Aoun will face stiff competition from a Saad-backed ticket that includes former Defence Minister Mohsen Daloul.

 

"I will go out and vote tomorrow for the Mount Lebanon Unity list because it is a united list representing Muslims and Christians," said barber Imad Najm.


On 29 May, elections were held in Beirut where a ticket headed by Saad al-Hariri won all 19 seats. Last Sunday, Hizb Allah and its allies won all 23 seats in the south. The north
votes in the last phase of elections on 19 June.