Author:Blanford, Nicholas

Nicholas Blanford reports from Beirut on the results of Lebanon's recent regional elections.

The Lebanese electorate went to the polls over a four week period in May and June to vote for new municipal councils, the first such elections in 35 years.

Although the elections had been scheduled to begin at the end of May, there was a good deal of uncertainty in the preceding months as to whether the vote would go ahead. Lebanon is still riven with doubts over the stability of its fragile confessional balance and the government feared that the elections could reawaken sectarian tensions.

Unlike most facets of Lebanese civil and political life, the municipal law was free from sectarian constraints. The voters could vote for whomever they felt suited the role best and did not have to choose candidates in an artificial proportional alliance of confessions.

However, this virtue alone was sufficient to cause considerable anxiety in some quarters, raising fears that the new municipal councils would not accurately reflect the confessional composition of the electoral region.

Lebanon is a heavily -- often stiflingly -- politicised country, and it came as no surprise that -- once the elections were confirmed -- competing political influences came to dominate the process of assessing candidates for the new municipalities.

There were a number of crucial questions that the elections were expected to answer. The first was the level of grassroots support the government would receive. The second was the battle for dominance between the two Shia parties, Hizbollah and Amal, in their strongholds of the southern suburbs of Beirut, the South and the Bekaa valley.

Also of importance was the reaction to the polls by the Christian opposition parties -- particularly those that support General Michel Aoun, who was ousted as de facto prime minister in 1990 by Syrian and Lebanese troops, and supporters of former Christian warlord, Samir Geagea, now languishing in jail for murder.

The Christian community, which has felt increasingly disenfranchised in the post-war political climate, called for the municipal law to be amended to take into account the confessional structure of the various qadas, or electoral districts. But the government refused any alteration, prompting many Christians to boycott the polls, particularly in Beirut.

The government decided to hold the elections over four consecutive Sundays. The first region to vote was Mount Lebanon, followed by the North...

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