|VOICE OF AMERICA|
SLUG: 2-324922 Lebanon/Election (L)
BYLINE= CARRIE GIARDINO
HEADLINE: Lebanon's Parliamentary Elections Kick-Off in Beirut
INTRO: Voting is underway in Beirut in the first parliamentary elections to be held in Lebanon in three decades, without the presence of Syrian forces. Observers expect the son of Rafik Hariri, the slain former prime minister, to make a strong showing in the first round of the staggered elections. For VOA, Carrie Giardino reports from Beirut.
TEXT: Thousands of Lebanese waited in line Sunday to cast their vote during the first stage of the parliamentary elections beginning in Beirut.
There are 19 out of a total 128 parliamentary seats for the Beirut district, but nine of those were uncontested and have gone to candidates running with Saad Hariri, the son of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was assassinated in February.
The Hariri ticket is widely expected to sweep all of the seats for Beirut, raising concerns that many of the 400-thousand registered voters in the capital might not go to the polls.
But a spokeswoman for fly-to-Lebanon, a non-profit organization assisting Lebanese expatriates to return in order to vote, Amira Solh, says citizens understand how important this election is.
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"Lebanese have been aching to have this kind of ownership over their government since the end of the war. This is something that should have taken place in 1990-91, and it is taking place instead in 2005, in the post-assassination of, whether liked or not, a strong leader in Rafik Hariri."
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The assassination of Rafik Hariri in February led to a public outcry and pressure for the withdrawal of Syrian troops. The Syrian pullout was completed last month. Saad Hariri, formerly a businessman, decided to take on his father's political mantle.
/// OPT /// Many of the 19 candidates on the new Hariri ticket ran in the 2000 elections with the former prime minister. Posters throughout Beirut display images of the young Hariri with his father, and some people have already referred to Saad Hariri as prime minister. /// END OPT ///
The elections take place by district over the course of four consecutive Sundays, with the next elections taking place in South Lebanon. This is the first time elections in Lebanon will be observed by outside monitors, with teams from the United Nations and the European Union on-hand for all four stages. (SIGNED)
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