Hezbollah, allies claim victory in east Lebanon vote

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Posted: May 09, 2016 12:27 PM
Hezbollah, allies claim victory in east Lebanon vote

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon's militant Hezbollah group and its allies won a vast majority of seats in areas where they ran in local elections in eastern Lebanon, the group's deputy leader said Monday, a day after the vote took place.

Judicial officials and election observers meanwhile were still counting ballots in Beirut, where a list of outsider candidates has challenged a unified political coalition for control of the municipality council.

A judge inside the ballot counting center, where all tallies were being completed by hand, said he and other officials had not slept in over 24 hours.

"We are short-staffed, and we've had to help each other out," the official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri declared victory for the "Beirutis" coalition list before official results were announced.

The coalition is headed by Jamal Itani and is backed by groups from across the party spectrum, including Hariri's Saudi-backed Future Movement, the Iran-backed Amal group and the country's three main Christian parties.

Officials from a competing list, Beirut Madinati __ Arabic for "Beirut, My City" __ said they would not make any statements until official results were known. Madinati's candidates, who have portrayed themselves as non-affiliated technocrats, have vowed to clean up the capital's streets and politics in the wake of a monthslong trash crisis.

Local media reported that Madinati was leading in one of the capital's three districts.

The municipal elections held Sunday in only two areas of the country — the capital, Beirut, and the eastern Bekaa Valley region — were the first vote in Lebanon since 2010.

The government has postponed parliamentary elections, citing security concerns linked to the conflict in neighboring Syria. Lebanon's parliament has failed to elect a president since May 2014 because of lack of quorum amid political disagreements.

Perhaps reflecting urban disillusionment with the political limbo, the turnout was low in Beirut — only 20 percent, just slightly higher than the 18 percent who voted in 2010.

The Lebanese capital has seen low turnout in the past, in part because many eligible voters live outside the city. Many in Beirut assumed the vote would be delayed, like other elections.

Zeina Helou, of the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections, told reporters that there were more than 647 violations, including gunfire on the homes of candidates, during Sunday's elections in Beirut and the Bekaa. She said the number was up from 314 violations in the previous elections six years ago. No one was wounded during the voting.

Hezbollah's deputy chief, Sheikh Naim Kassem, said Monday that the group and its allies ran in 80 municipalities out of 143 in the Bekaa Valley and won almost all the seats. That included all municipal seats in the historic city of Baalbek and the major town of Brital along the Syria border, where Hezbollah competed against a list backed by prominent families.

"It was a complete victory," Kassem said of the Baalbek and Brital vote. He added that Hezbollah's opponents secured some seats in six towns in the area.

In the Bekaa's provincial capital of Zahleh, three lists fiercely competed with one that is backed by two major Christian groups. The Christian-backed list claimed victory.

Turnout was higher in the east, where Hezbollah is popular, with the figure reaching 48 percent in Baalbek.

Municipal elections will be held in other parts of Lebanon in the coming weeks.

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Associated Press writer Philip Issa contributed to this report.