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Lebanon Gearing up for Parliamentary Elections


Polls will open in less than 24 hours for Lebanon's parliamentary elections, and civil servants are preparing polling stations and ballot boxes for Sunday's crucial vote. International election monitors, including former president Jimmy Carter, will be overseeing the voting process.

Lebanese civil servants, who oversee polling stations have been dispatched to their assigned posts across the country, and paper ballots, along with plastic ballot boxes have been expedited to each electoral district.

Beirut's acting governor, Naseef Kaloush told reporters that all systems were go in the capital when polling begins Sunday.

There have been complaints, however, in other far-flung electoral districts such as the West Bekaa, bordering Syria. One teacher, who is in charge of a polling station in Baalbek Hermel complained that the "situation is chaotic."

At another polling station near the Christian Bekaa Valley town of Zahle, the situation appeared under control, with security forces guarding the area in an armed personnel carrier.

Lebanon's top political leaders, including those of the pro-Western March 14th movement such as Druze chief Walid Jumblatt, former president Amin Gemayel and parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri all went on TV urging supporters to vote.

There have been some charges of unfair election tactics, including the forging of national ID cards. Interior Minister Ziad Baroud insisted to reporters that he thinks such forging is difficult, if not impossible.

He says that no forging is possible, at all, on the personal identity card, issued to each citizen by the Interior Ministry, because of all the sophisticated technical and security features on the card. He also notes that forging of ID cards and use of forged cards is illegal and those caught forging will be punished.

There have been other accusations by all parties of unfair electoral tactics such as buying votes, religious edicts to vote for a specific candidate and the flying in of candidates from outside the country to vote.

Former President Jimmy Carter, who is overseeing the election as an international observer, insists that the use of money to buy votes is probably equal on both sides of the political divide and that flying voters into Lebanon is not illegal.

"Both sides are complying with existing law, which permits, for instance, the purchase of airplane tickets all the way from Australia, or Alaska or Africa into Lebanon to vote, but that's existing law," he said. "It's not illegal. And whether the use of money from Iran is greater or less than the influx of money from Saudi Arabia is something that we can't quantify, and if it apparently balances out, pretty much equal violation on both sides, then we believe that the will of the people can be expressed freely, tomorrow."

Mr. Carter thinks that the worst potential problem is not with the actual electoral process, but what happens after the votes are tallied.

"The biggest potential problem is the vow by some of the leaders of the March 14th coalition that they will not participate if they lose, and that's something that will have to be addressed after the election is over. Nobody knows who's going to win, and we hope that all of the outside forces, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia and others will stay neutral and support a coalition government after the election is over," he said.

He points out that he's been a monitor for 76 previous elections and that "all of them have been in trouble in some way." But, despite the various allegations of fraud already flying in the air, he stresses that this is "not the worst election, in any case."

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