Lebanon gears up for polls
Beirut, June 6, 2009
Lebanese candidates canvassed feverishly for votes on Friday, the last day of campaigning before a parliamentary vote in which Shi'ite Hezbollah and its allies hope to reverse the anti-Syrian coalition's majority.
Across Lebanon candidates met voters in their constituencies in last-minute efforts to sway them before Sunday's election.
Iranian-backed Hezbollah, whose allies include Christian leader Michel Aoun, is competing with an anti-Syrian bloc backed by the United States and Saudi Arabia which won a 2005 election. Analysts expect a very tight race with no camp securing a comfortable victory.
The most likely outcome will be a national unity government, similar to the current one, they say. Lebanon has witnessed a period of calm in the run-up to the election.
The country had reached boiling point last year when political and Sunni-Shi'ite sectarian tensions brought Lebanon to the brink of civil war.
More than 100 people were killed in sectarian violence before an agreement led to the election of President Michel Suleiman and the formation of a national unity government.
Despite fears of violent incidents on election day, Interior minister Ziad Baroud said he expected the vote to go smoothly.
"I remember at the end of 2008, there were fears that the election would not happen on time. There was lots of talk that the elections are threatened," he told reporters.
"We take all fears seriously into account, but we have complete trust in the army and the internal security forces and they will do the maximum that can be done."
Lebanese security forces will deploy 50,000 men across the country of 4 million people to maintain security on election day.
Around 200 international observers will be monitoring the vote. "I hope that by participating together, we all go out on Sunday with the least amount of tension. I reject the insinuation that Sunday will be a day of problems," Baroud said.
The United States has said it will review its aid to Lebanon in light of the next government's composition and policies, but analysts in Washington discounted the chance of a complete halt to U.S. military funding if Hezbollah and its allies win.
Some suggested a cut-off in military aid totalling $500 million since 2005 was not in either side's interest given US overtures to Hezbollah's two main supporters, Syria and Iran, and the likely reluctance of Hezbollah and its allies to isolate Lebanon from the West.
A recent rapprochement between regional rivals Syria and Saudi Arabia has also helped defuse tensions.-Reuters