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Sunday, 3 September, 2000, 23:05 GMT 00:05 UK
The battle for Lebanon's premiership
Hariri supporters cover a car with his posters
Former prime minister Rafik Hariri could make a come-back
By Christopher Hack in Beirut

One of the biggest battles in Lebanon's election campaign has been between former prime minister Rafik Hariri, seeking to return to office, and the incumbent, Salim Hoss.

In the faction-ridden world of Lebanese politics there can be few more contrasting figures.

Mr Hoss is a softly-spoken consensus politician in his seventies.

Priding himself on his modesty, he lives on the sixth floor of a rundown apartment block with paper peeling from the walls - he is "the conscience of Lebanon", according to his campaign posters.

New toy

Rafik Hariri is made of different stuff.

Former prime minister and self-made billionaire, Rafiq Hariri, at a campaign rally in Beirut
Mr Hariri's campaign reportedly cost $50m
A portly construction tycoon, he started life as a schoolteacher and is now said to be worth more than six billion dollars.

While Mr Hoss relies on the flight schedule of Lebanon's national airline for foreign trips, Mr Hariri uses his latest toy - a brand new Boeing 777, just like the US president's aircraft Air Force One.

During the 1990s when Mr Hariri reigned supreme as prime minister, Lebanon resembled a huge construction site, with flamboyant projects at every turn - six-lane highways, an oppulent new city centre and a massive international airport.

But the Hariri dream was built on borrowing and the country is now deeply in debt.

Recession

Mr Hoss's Lebanon is a quieter, more modest country, but has been in the grips of recession for two years.

Mr Hoss: softly spoken
Mr Hoss: softly spoken
Most Beiruters now want a change.

There are signs that the electorate has forgiven Mr Hariri his previous excesses and wants him back at the top.

Clearly confident, Mr Hariri's staff were quick to begin pasting thank-you notices across election posters.

But politics in Lebanon is not always what it seems.

Mr Hariri knows that winning a majority in parliament is never enough on its own to get the top job.

The man with the last say on who runs Lebanon is in fact the president of neighbouring Syria, and many expect consultations between Beirut and Damascus to begin in earnest even before official results appear on Monday.

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See also:

20 Jul 00 | Country profiles
Country profile: Lebanon
29 Aug 00 | Middle East
Opposition victory in Lebanon election
09 Aug 00 | Middle East
In pictures: Lebanese troops return
19 Jul 00 | Middle East
Lebanon timeline
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