BATROUN/KOURA: Election results in Batroun showed the March 14 winners of the vote over their Free Patriotic Movement competitors in the district. But ballot counting was still under way in Batroun and the nearby district of Koura as The Daily Star went to press. However, in Koura March 14 won the district in later counts.
Koura and Batroun are mainly Christian areas that were closely contested by the March 14 and opposition coalitions, with the five total seats from both districts seen as possibly key in making or breaking a majority for either alliance's parliamentary bloc.
The run up to the election saw intense campaigning, with candidates engaging in insult trading and mudslinging in a bid to gain an edge in hotly contested districts.
Despite the closeness of the races, the atmosphere in Batroun and Koura was peaceful and even jovial on Sunday as friends and families raised tents and celebrated together before and after voting.
The turnout in Batroun reached 60 percent, while 53 percent of registered voters went to the polls in Koura. Both turnouts were considerably higher than that of the parliamentary elections in 2005, when there were 14 districts instead of 26 and many voters boycotted the polls because of what they saw as unfair districting.
This was also the first time the elections were not spread over weeks, and instead were held on a single day.
Long lines and purple thumbs seemed to be the main complaints as the new voting procedure appeared to run smoothly in both districts. However, monitoring agencies including European Union Election Observation Mission and the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections are expected to release on Monday a list of any voting violations in districts across the country.
Emile Barboury a 29-year-old voter said the election atmosphere at his poling place was good, right after dipping his left thumb into a bottle of purple ink which signified he had voted. "All the people know everyone," said Barboury, who said he saw many people he knew at his voting station in Batroun. Barboury's comments seemed characteristic of most voting stations in both districts as many voters greeted each other with kisses while waiting in line.
The two districts' five Parliament seats are divided between three Greek Orthodox seats in Koura and two Maronite seats in Batroun.
Antoine Zahra, a member of the Lebanese Forces, and Boutros Harb, a former presidential candidate, ran on the March 14's list for the seats in Batroun. Telecommunications Minister and FPM member Gebran Bassil and Faek Younes, former head of the Physicians syndicate, ran on the March 8 list.
In addition to the LF and FPM parties involved in the Batroun race, Sleiman Frangieh's Marada threw its weight behind Bassil, while the Amine Gemayel's Phalange backed Zahra's candidacy.
While the elections were still in full swing, Zahra made allegations against the opposition and complained about the election procedure. "The elections operation is not being totally democratic but it is relatively good," said Zahra.
In Koura, the electoral landscape is decidedly different. The majority Greek Orthodox community does not overwhelmingly support one political party and varied banners and flags could be seen around the district, including the Lebanese Communist Party and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party. Most votes are expected to be divided between March 14's list of Nicolas Ghosn, Farid Habib and Farid Makari, and March 8's line-up of Fayez Ghosen, Salim Saadeh and Georges Attallah.
Whether candidates in Koura and Batroun will help tip the scale for March 8 or March 14 or lead to a hung parliament depends on the results in the rest of Lebanon.
Either situation could lead to disunity in the government and give rise to a power struggle similar to the opposition boycott that occurred in 2007.
But Salim Saadeh, the SSNP March 8 candidate in Koura, thinks otherwise.
"Whether March 8 or March 14 come to power there is definitely going to be a unity government," said Saadeh. - Additional reporting by Dana Halawi