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Lebanon Begins its First Round of Elections

The first of four rounds in the Lebanese elections were held Sunday in the Beirut district. It is the first time elections free from Syrian control have been held in the country since the end of the Lebanese civil war 15 years ago. As expected, Saad Hariri, son of the late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, received the most votes of any candidate.

A campaign rally for Saad Hariri, son of the late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, whose assassination forced new elections and the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon.

Saad Hariri is the new face of Lebanese politics. And his list of candidates won handily in Sunday's elections in the Beirut district. In the crowd, members of the Al Arab family, who like many, have been inspired by the 35-year-old candidate.

Zaeda Al Arab is encouraged by what she sees. "In the last election we were very eager to vote. And in this election when the prime minister was martyred, I thought, 'I am never going to vote again. And I am not going to let my kids work in the elections. What's the point, it is not worth it.' Then I heard that Saad was taking over his father's place. And I was excited again and I thought, 'No, we have got to help him. And we have got to go down and we have got to vote.' "

It is the legacy of his father that attracts many. His father spent much of his time and personal fortune rebuilding the country after 15 years of civil war. Zaeda Al Arab's daughter Rana is 21.

Too young to remember Lebanon's civil war, she grew up in the era of Syrian occupation. She is voting for the first time. "We wish since long time to free out, to get Syria out. Now that we have done it I wish that we really could prove ourselves. We wish something, it is done now. So what is the next step. We have to prove that we can do it by ourselves and we are. I guess we are."

Around the Al Arab home there are many reminders of personal ties with the Hariri family. One of their in-laws was Rafik Hariri's closest advisor and bodyguard. He was killed in the same massive bomb blast.

Twenty-five year-old Ahmad Al Arab works at Future TV, which is owned and run by the Hariri family. He sees this election as something that can draw a multi-ethnic society together and prove it is viable. "Syrian government was trying to tell people that no, they can't live with each other. No, we can. And we can change and we can work with each other to make something better for this country."

At 7 a.m. Election Day, the city was already bustling with activity. In Lebanon, men and women vote at separate locations. First Ahmad and his father vote, then Rana and her mother.

Voter turnout was low, only 28 percent compared to 35 percent in the 2000 elections. Many feel the same old tribal and political leaders are still running the country, and the election lists are mostly made up of candidates from the same religious background. Zaena hopes the new parliament will address election reform. "Yes I think there should be a reform in the law and in the security system as well. Because the security systems were very involved in what happened in the elections. And hopefully this will be something that the new parliament can work on."

There are three more rounds of elections to go. The next will be in the southern part of the country. There too, most candidates are pledging to topple the pro-Syrian president and speaker of the parliament.