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Lebanon Wraps up Final Round of Elections

JENNIFER LUDDEN, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Jennifer Ludden.

(Soundbite of crowd noise; horns honking)

Group of People: (Chanting in foreign language)

LUDDEN: Today was election day in northern Lebanon. It was the last of four phased rounds of voting, the first elections in three decades to be held free of a Syrian military presence. As you may recall, Syrian troops left Lebanon in April not long after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Many Lebanese blamed Syria for Hariri's murder and hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in protest. An opposition alliance says it has won this crucial round of parliamentary elections and will now steer Lebanon on an independent course. NPR's Eric Weiner is in Beirut and joins us on the line.

Eric, you've just returned from northern Lebanon. What was the scene like at polling stations?

ERIC WEINER reporting:

Well, it was, in a word, Jennifer, colorful. Supporters from the various candidates were out in force, driving by polling stations, waving flags. The Lebanese love flags. There are dozens, each for a different party or a different candidate, and they were honking their horns, as you just heard, another Lebanese electoral tradition. There are different honking tunes such as beep, beep, be-be-be-beep which indicates support for different candidates. And, of course, with a hundred different candidates, it makes for a real cacophony.

LUDDEN: Well, it sounds like a lot of happiness there. What about one of the candidates people are looking at, the late Rafik Hariri's son? Do we know how he did?

WEINER: Well, he says that he's done quite well in this latest round of elections. We won't know for sure for a little while yet. Now Saad Hariri is young--only 35 years old--and he has virtually no political experience. But, of course, Jennifer, that doesn't really matter to most Lebanese. What's important is that he's the son of Rafik Hariri who was hugely popular here. Rafik Hariri spent billions of dollars of his own money to try to rebuild the city of Beirut. And, in fact, here in Beirut, you see these posters everywhere of father and son together, making the not-so-subtle connection for voters: If they supported Rafik Hariri, they should support his son, Saad Hariri.

LUDDEN: Well, after these mass demonstrations that we saw in Lebanon this past spring--I mean, many people came to expect tremendous political change there with the departure of the Syrian troops. What happened to what people called the Cedar Revolution?

WEINER: Basically, what people here think is there was a Cedar Revolution but then it essentially was aborted, and the Lebanese resorted to their old sectarian ways. There are 18 different sects in Lebanon, and that makes for a very, very complicated political situation. For instance, the president of Lebanon must always be a Maronite Christian and the prime minister always a Sunni Muslim, the speaker of house a Shia Muslim. And there are a lot of Lebanese who I've been speaking with who feel the system has to go and they have to have a system where anybody can be president and anybody can be prime minister. But the question is: How do they get from the old system to the new system?

LUDDEN: Well, let me ask you about one group; outsiders certainly are watching. That's Hezbollah. The US government considers it a terrorist organization but they're also a political party there. What does their role now look to be?

WEINER: You're right. The US considered them a terrorist organization, but here in Lebanon, they are considered heroes. They did very well in these elections, and the leader of Hezbollah, Sheik Nasrallah, says he's taking that as a mandate that they can keep their weapons. The US says it is going to pressure the new Lebanese government to force Hezbollah to disarm, but what if, in fact, Hezbollah is part of the new Lebanese government?

LUDDEN: NPR's Eric Weiner in Beirut, thank you.

WEINER: It was great talking with you, Jennifer. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Weiner
Eric Weiner is a national correspondent for NPR.org. Based in Washington, DC, he writes news and analysis for NPR's website.