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Hezbollah alliance has edge in Lebanon vote: pollsters

AFP

June 4, 2009

BEIRUT (AFP) Ś Shiite militant group Hezbollah and its allies are poised to defeat Lebanon's Western-backed parliamentary majority in this month's general election, pollsters said on Thursday.

"The fight will be fierce, but all polls since last summer show the opposition winning by a slight margin," said Abdo Saad, head of the Beirut Centre for Research and Information.

"Overall, our statistics show an opposition win by two or three seats."

Hezbollah, which fought a devastating war with Israel in 2006, remains blacklisted as a terrorist group by the United States.

Washington has said it will review its aid to Lebanon in the light of the outcome of Sunday's election.

Nearly 11,000 government employees, who will be involved in overseeing the poll, cast their ballots amid tight security on Thursday.

Analysts said a handful of key battleground constituencies are likely to be crucial in determining the outcome of the election, notably the Metn region northeast of Beirut, the coastal city of Sidon and the eastern town of Zahle.

"Whoever wins Zahle will win the election," Saad said. "Zahle is the great decider."

Pollsters said the votes of expatriate Lebanese are likely to play a major role. Thousands have been flown home to vote by the rival parties.

"In mixed districts, like Zahle, a confession that brings in more expats to vote on election day could swing the scale," pollster Kamal Feghali told AFP.

He said the redrawing of constituency boundaries, agreed last year after a drawn out political crisis that brought the country to the brink of civil war, had played in the favour of Hezbollah and its allies.

Rabih Habre, the head of Statistics Lebanon, said he expected a tight race and a high turnout.

"I think we will see the opposition win by two or three seats," he told AFP.

Some 3.2 million Lebanese are eligible to vote for the 128 seats in parliament, which are divided equally between Christians and Muslims.

Some 250 foreign monitors are expected to oversee the election.

Interior Minister Ziad Baroud said he expects the final results to be announced on Monday, barring any major security incidents or fraud.





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