BEIRUT, Lebanon -Lebanese opposition leader Saad Hariri said he”s hopeful of an electoral rebound in the last stage of parliamentary elections after a surprisingly strong showing by his rival, former military commander Michel Aoun.
The son of slain former Premier Rafik Hariri urged supporters in northern Lebanon, where the final stage of the election will be held on Sunday, to "get up and go vote for what we believe in."
"We”re very confident," Hariri, a political novice thrust into leadership of Lebanon”s anti-Syrian forces, said in an interview with The Associated Press and APTN.
"I think we have to fight (for seats). This is what democracy is all about," he said.
Aoun — a longtime Syrian foe now allied with pro-Syrian forces — and his allies won 21 of the 58 seats contested Sunday in central and eastern Lebanon, putting the brakes on the anti-Syrian opposition”s quest for a majority in the 128-member legislature.
The opposition needs to win 19 of the 28 seats in the north to wrest control of parliament from pro-Syrians and end one of the last vestiges of Syrian power in Lebanon.
Hariri would not say whether he would be able to muster a majority at the end of the four-stage elections. He said he would wait for the final results to decide whether to seek the premiership, a post his father held for 10 of the last 15 years and during which he rebuilt war-ravaged Lebanon.
"I will wait until the 19th of June comes and I will accept whatever result comes out," Hariri said.
Aoun”s upset shook Lebanon”s political scene and drew sharp criticism from Walid Jumblatt, another opposition leader who described Aoun as an extremist and chastised Christians for electing him.
But 35-year-old Hariri, who took over his father”s political mantle after he was killed by a bomb in Beirut Feb. 14, took a conciliatory tone, saying he agrees with Aoun on many issues, particularly on reforms, but disagrees with him about his recent alliances with pro-Syrian politicians.
"What happened is democratic. The people have spoken. I respect that. This is their choice," he said. "I congratulate Gen. Aoun for his victory and I think this is what democracy is all about — the idea of choices of people, to choose whoever they want."
Aoun”s anti-corruption campaign struck a chord with voters disillusioned with mainstream politicians. But he needed the help of alliances with pro-Syrian candidates to guarantee wins in some districts.
Hariri said he, too, wants to fight corruption and supports administrative reforms, just as his father did.
"We believe in these choices. We believe that we need to change and this is what we have been saying," the billionaire businessman said.
Hariri said he was open to talks with Aoun, but criticized the former military commander”s choice of electoral alliances, and expressed doubts that they could last.
"Gen. Aoun is a very smart man and I think he is using those tactics to help him gain some majority in the parliament … So, hopefully maybe after the election he will get rid of these people," Hariri said.
The opposition has accused Syria and its Lebanese allies in the security services of being behind the bombing on a Beirut street that killed Hariri and 20 others. The attack sparked mass anti-Syrian protests and intensified international pressure that forced Syria to withdraw its army from Lebanon, a pullout completed April 26.
Hariri challenged Aoun to confront the lingering Syrian intelligence presence in the country, which the opposition blames for the assassination last month of anti-Syrian journalist Samir Kassir.
"If Gen. Aoun is genuine about change, if Gen. Aoun wants change, we need to change everything. We need to change a symbol of making Lebanon a police state, which is the most dangerous issue that Lebanon has faced," he said, referring to meddling by pro-Syrian elements of the security services in Lebanese politics.
Some opposition leaders have called for the resignation of pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud, claiming he was shielding the security agencies. Hariri, a Sunni Muslim, said he would support whatever decision was taken by the Maronite Catholic Church, to which Lahoud belongs.
Hariri vowed to bring his father”s killers to justice.
"He who killed my father will pay … We will not relent in following this. We will always look for whoever killed him. But I”m sure that whoever killed him will face justice," he said.