BEIRUT, Lebanon – Candidates loyal to the son of assassinated politician Rafik Hariri (search) swept the first Lebanese election largely free of Syrian domination, claiming all 19 parliamentary seats in Beirut, results showed Monday.
The vote was largely a tribute to the former prime minister whose death in a bombing earlier this year triggered international anger and street protests that ultimately drove the Syrian army out of Lebanon (search).
The United States was closely watching the vote, along with other governments that had pushed for a Syrian troop withdrawal followed by a timely election.
Interior Minister Hassan Sabei, announcing the official results, said Saad Hariri and his allies won all 10 contested seats. Hariri's ticket automatically won nine other seats where there were no challengers.
Hariri was the biggest vote-getter, collecting about 40,000 ballots, five times those of the loser in one constituency. But turnout was low, about 27 percent of the 473,000-plus eligible voters, compared with 35 percent in the 2000 parliamentary elections.
The weak turnout reflected calls for a boycott amid complaints that Hariri, a Sunni Muslim, did not have enough different political factions represented on his ticket and about the lack of challengers in some constituencies. Television stations reported the boycott was strong in Christian areas.
Hundreds of Hariri supporters danced and cheered outside the family's palatial residence in Beirut Sunday night as returns tallied by his campaign showed the Hariri slate leading. Fireworks lit the night sky as the Hariri family went to the grave of the slain leader late Sunday to pray.
Sunday's vote was the first stage of a four-part election. Other regions of Lebanon vote on the next three Sundays. Sabei called the vote "trouble-free," but there was one minor incident — a fightfight between supporters of opposition leader Walid Jumblatt (search), a Hariri ally, and Najah Wakim, who lost Sunday.
Many observers expect the polls, the first free of Syrian meddling in 29 years, to sweep the anti-Syrian opposition to power and install a new parliament, removing the last vestiges of Damascus' control.
Syrian forces withdrew in April after mass demonstrations in Lebanon and relentless international pressure sparked by the Feb. 14 assassination of the former premier in a blast that also killed 20 others.
Stephane Dujarric, a spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan (search), said the U.N. chief was encouraged by the democratic conduct of the first round of the Lebanese parliamentary elections and hoped the remaining rounds would take place in the same peaceful atmosphere.
"These elections constitute a major opportunity for the Lebanese people to shape their own future, to strengthen their political institutions and to restore their full sovereignty," Annan said in a statement.
More than 100 observers from the European Union and the United Nations watched the vote for irregularities, the first time Lebanon has permitted foreign scrutiny.
"I see it as a potential for a new start," U.S. Sen. Joseph Biden, who came to watch the balloting, told The Associated Press.
The Delaware Democrat acknowledged that the new parliament may not be fundamentally different from the previous one, but said the atmosphere had improved because "there's an occupying force that's gone."