ARF Candidates Pakradouni and Kasarji Victorious in Parliamentary Elections

Intense voter turnout characterize polls in the Metn area–the second district in Lebanon’s third round of elections; Lebanese Armenia’s hold massive pre-election rally–followed by huge voter turnout

BEIRUT (Combined Sources)–If a rally of 20,000 people in Bourj Hammoud on Friday–June 10–was any indication of Armenian show of force in Lebanon–it also served to prelude their determination to elect to parliament two Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) candidates–Hagop Pakradouni and Georges Kasarji–two days later in the Metn and Bekka districts.

The party–in spite of certain criticism for boycotting the first round of elections–nevertheless–garnered widespread support as masses turned out to vote in the predominantly Armenian populated area of Bourj Hammoud–as well as the village of Anjar in the Bekka Valley–where unofficial numbers placed voter turnout at 99 percent.

In Bourj Hammoud–voters came out as polling stations opened–and by 2:30PM–85-90% of eligible voters had cast ballots. Official observers described it as "intense voter turnout."

According to reports from Lebanon–ARF centers–which were transformed into voter information centers the night before the election–were buzzing with activity. Determined to elect ARF representatives to parliament–supporters–especially youth from the Zavarian Student Organization–Lebanon’s Armenian Youth Federation (LEM)–Homenetmen–and other organizations– chose not to sleep–but prepared for elections.

"I’m positive that we’re going to win because the seat allotted to the Armenian community can only be filled by the candidate that truly represents that community. I’ll work for not one day–but for months to ensure the ARF wins and Lebanese Armenia’s have someone to express their concerns in parliament," said one of the young volunteers working to ensure a smooth vote.

Asbarez editor Vatche Proodian spoke with Hagop Pakradouni on Monday–who said preliminary results reveal that of the 11,000 Armenian voters in Metn district–10,100 voted for him–and 900 for opponent Raffi Madeyan. The general vote in Metn shows Pakradouni getting 53,272 votes and Madeyan 25,043.

Aside from a few independent candidates–two electoral lists waged a fierce battle in Metn for eight seats in Parliament: one backed by Michel Aoun–the ARF–and deputy Speaker Michel Murr; and the opposition’s list–which contained Nassib Lahoud–Gabriel Murr–and Pierre Gemayel.

Unofficial counts showed candidates backed by Aoun set to clinch 15 of 16 seats up for grabs in Metn–as well as Byblos-Kesrwan.

At a victory party Sunday evening–Pakradouni spoke to a packed crowed gathered next to the ARF center. "This victory is not mine but yours–it’s a triumph for Lebanese Armenia’s."

Thanking everyone–Pakradouni said–"Our strength is in our unity; we are strong only when we are one–and only then can we realize all our dreams."

Pakradouni said that as the ARF was born of the people–and since its creation has worked to promote their welfare–he pledged to do the same in the coming four years–to serve the interest of those who both he and the ARF are indebted.

In Zahle as well–early indications show a clean sweep for a list headed by Elias Skaff–the ARF–and Aoun–which includes ARF candidate Georges Kasarji.

With just one round of voting left next week–the major task for the incoming parliament will be to address the thorny issue of the disarming of Lebanese resistance group Hizbullah–as demanded by the international community.

There is also the equally problematic issue of the future of Lebanon’s President Emile Lahoud.

Calls for Lahoud’s resignation have increased in recent weeks as the opposition’s victory became more certain.

But after casting his vote in Mount Lebanon–Lahoud insisted: "I am staying until the last moment in my tenure and this is because I believe that the Constitution says so."

Lahoud added: "We did as much as possible to stop corruption but there are so many corrupt people in politics so I voted for the people who will stop corruption."

He also urged Parliament to issue a new electoral law to replace the current law–which was adopted in 2000.

At stake on Sunday were 58 of Parliament’s 128 seats.

But only 56 seats were up for grabs since Druze opposition leader Walid Jumblatt and his ally–Marwan Hamade–had already won uncontested in the Chouf district.

Forty-two MPs have already been elected in the first two rounds. In Beirut–the son of slain former Premier Rafik Hariri won all of the area’s 19 seats by a landslide. In South Lebanon–Hizbullah and Amal also swept all the region’s 23 seats.

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