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Polls close in Lebanon's hotly contested election

The voting stations have closed and the votes are now being counted in Lebanon’s tightly contested parliamentary elections. 

At least 52 percent of the electorate turned out for the poll, said Ziad Baroud, the Lebanese Interior minister. That’s a seven-point increase on the country's last parliamentary elections, in 2005, when only 45 percent of registered voters turned out.

The voting day passed with few problems amid tight security.  Fifty thousand soldiers and police guarded more than 500 voting stations and directed traffic in the country of nearly four million. Voters complained that lines were too long, due to the polls being held for the first time in recent history on one day.  

Among the voters from Metn, Beirut and Zahle, the vote was largely seen by both sides as a referendum on Hezbollah’s militia and stockpile of weapons.  Hezbollah and its allies, predictably, say they need the weapons to defend against Israel.  One Hezbollah supporter went as far as to say (yawn) that March 14 is full of traitors.  The March 14 coalition, of course, says Hezbollah’s weapons are the real cause of conflict in Lebanon — having been used twice in the last three years — in May 2008  to take over west Beirut, and on Israel in the summer war of 2006.

If all  the above is nothing new, then here are some images you haven't seen in four years. 

As polls  closed, election workers and observers in Beit Mery, a small town near Beirut located in a battleground voting district, began popping open sealed containers to count votes.  The votes were counted in different rooms depending on religious  denomination and  sex.  The picture below is from the first moments after the clear plastic box holding ballots  for the male Maronites in Beit Mery was  popped open and  the votes arranged for counting.

The next step was actually counting the votes.  The votes are put in front of a camera that broadcasts them on TV screen for all to see.  The votes are then read aloud by the election official.  Here, you can see the ballot underneath the camera.  The two white cubes are bakery boxes they stacked on top of one  another to ingeniously make the vote clear after some debate about it's  blurriness. It was kind of nice seeing all the parties in the room  counting ballots together, not at one another's throats or honking maniacally.  It also reminded me of AUB's student election ...


Here is a picture from outside the vote counting room.  A police officer providing security looks on.  The voting and counting took place in public buildings, including this school. One can see the ballot projected onto the screen to the right. 

It should be noted that this process is one way that marked ballots can be identified by parties who bought the vote. Provisions in the 2008 voter law that would have instituted a standard ballot, and moved vote counting to a central, non-localized location, were both voted down by parliamentary blocs from both sides.

I left the ballot counting around 7:45. Not far away, supporters of both Michel Aoun and March 14 had taken to the tiny main street in Beit Mery to honk horns, race back and forth, wave flags and generally make as much noise as possible (see photo below). Aoun's people definitely won for enthusiasm, organization and lots of orange. Apparently, the Lebanese Army  broke up a few fights this evening between the two  sides because of these types of demonstrations  getting out of control.  But all is well in Beit Mery for now. Elections results are expected to be released around midnight or early this morning. Here are a few shots of the after election party. Sorry to return to the everyday.