|Lebanese women cast their ballots in Nabattiyeh |
Voters in southern Lebanon go to the polls Sunday in the second round of the country's parliamentary elections. These elections mark the first time in 30 years that Lebanese are voting without Syrian troops in the country.
In the first round last Sunday in Beirut, candidates opposed to Syria won all the seats, but two pro-Syrian groups have their base in southern Lebanon and their candidates are expected to win most of the seats.
The south is the stronghold of the militant group Hezbollah, which has allied itself in this election with the Amal movement led by Nabih Berri, the speaker of parliament and a supporter of Syria. The Hezbollah-Amal coalition is expected to sweep the majority of the 23 seats in the south. Six of those seats have already gone to coalition candidates because no one was running against them.
Speaker Berri is urging the people of southern Lebanon to go to the polls in force, but many, like Joseph Loutfi, say there is a lot of voter apathy surrounding these elections because everyone already knows which side is likely to win.
"This election, it's a game after all. It's already planned and it's already done. But what will it affect? It will affect nothing," said Mr. Loutfi.
The first round of elections held in Beirut last Sunday saw less than 30 percent of voters casting their ballots.
Hezbollah, which the United States has declared a terrorist organization, is pushing for a greater turnout in the south the group says a big turnout will strengthen its demand that it be able to hold on to its weapons. A United Nations resolution passed last year calls for the group to disarm.
Many Christians in the south are calling for a boycott of the elections because they say the electoral districts there are configured in a way that makes it all but impossible for Christian candidates to win.
These parliamentary elections are the first to be held in Lebanon with the assistance of international monitors. The European Union election team in Lebanon declared the first round of the elections to be free and fair. The third, and likely most contested round of voting, will take place in the Mt. Lebanon region of the country on June 12.