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Last Updated: Friday, 27 May 2005, 11:36 GMT 12:36 UK
Q&A: Lebanon votes
Lebanese parliament
The parliament has 128 seats
Lebanon goes to the polls on Sunday in the first round of parliamentary elections. The vote comes amidst a political crisis sparked by the killing of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, which led to anti-Syrian protests and the withdrawal of all Syrian troops from the country.

While Mr Hariri's killing united Lebanese from across the sectarian divide in outrage, it also created new tensions and fears of a possible return to civil conflict.

What is the likely outcome?

The election is the first in 30 years to be held without the presence of the Syrian military on Lebanese soil. Politicians opposing Syria's influence in Lebanon are predicted to do well.

But since Syria's withdrawal in April, a loose alliance of Christian and Muslim opposition groups has struggled to form a united front.

While Prime Minister Najib Miqati insists polling will be free of Syrian influence, some opposition groups are concerned that the current voting system will return many of the old political forces to parliament.

What is the timetable?

Five electoral regions will vote in turn: Beirut on 29 May (19 seats), South Lebanon on 5 June (23 seats), Mount Lebanon (35 seats) and Bekaa Valley (23 seats) on 12 June and North Lebanon (28 seats) on 19 June.

Will there be monitors?

The United Nations has sent a team to provide technical assistance. A European Union team of 100 observers is monitoring the polls.

How does the system work?

Elections are organised by the Interior Ministry. Parliament is elected on a sectarian basis, to maintain a balance between Christian and Muslim communities.

The 128 seats are divided equally among Muslims and Christians. These seats are sub-divided among the sects. The number of seats each sect has in a region depends on the sectarian make-up of the population.

Sunnis - 27
Shia - 27
Druze - 8
Alawite - 2
Total - 64

The five regions are further divided into 14 electoral districts. These in turn comprise 27 constituencies with between one and 10 seats, allocated on a sectarian basis.

The candidate who obtains a simple majority wins the constituency seat.

What happened in the run-up?

There has been much debate over electoral reform.

The current law was drawn up in 2000 and opposition groups say the constituency boundaries still favour Syria's supporters.

Christian groups in particular say that the law is unfair. Despite their numbers - according to some estimates some 40% of voters are Christians - they are a minority in nine of the 14 districts.

They are calling for smaller electoral districts.

Pro-Syrian former Prime Minister Omar Karami and the Sunni Islamist movement Jamaa Islamiya are among those who have called for a boycott of the polls in protest against the law.

Who won last time?

In 2000 Rafik Hariri and his allies won 22% of the vote. With 43 MPs, they became the largest bloc in parliament.

Druze leader Walid Jumblatt and his supporters took 14 seats while the Shia party Amal, led by Nabih Berri, and Hezbollah won most of the seats in mainly Shia southern Lebanon.

While the anti-Syrian opposition made certain gains it was pro-Syrian deputies who dominated the assembly. Analysts said that the outcome was a result of Syrian interference.

Maronites - 34
Greek Orthodox - 14
Greek Catholic - 8
Armenian Orthodox - 5
Armenian Catholic - 1
Protestants - 1
"Minorities" - 1
Total - 64

Who is standing?

Politicians and groups who opposed Syria's military presence and political influence are termed the opposition.

Few today advocate Syrian dominance of Lebanese politics. Groups often differ in their degree of opposition, with some acknowledging the need for good economic and political relations with Damascus.

The most prominent groups are: Druze leader Walid Jumblatt's Democratic Gathering bloc, the Future Movement of Saad Hariri, Rafiq Hariri's son, the Maronite Christian Qornet Shehwan Gathering and the Free Patriotic Movement, led by former army chief Michel Aoun.

Some MPs have said that the elections will be a "referendum on independence". Christian groups are seeking to redress the balance after years of Syrian domination, which they say marginalised their interests.

Future Movement leader Saad Hariri is said to be confident the opposition can win between 80 and 90 of the parliament's 128 seats.

But analysts warn the result may be clouded by the opposition's lack of unity and a return to sectarian politics.

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