BEIRUT — Lebanon's Christians united in opposing the country's first general election in two decades when the moderate Falangist Party announced Friday it was boycotting the vote.
The decision, prompted by Christian fears that the heavy Syrian troop presence in Beirut could influence voting, means that 700,000 of Lebanon's 2 million eligible voters are likely to boycott the election.
Political observers said only Lebanon's majority Muslims are expected to vote, effectively pushing the country to the brink of sectarian partition. Voting is due to begin Aug. 23.
Announcing the boycott, Falangist leader George Saadeh said his group would pursue its efforts with the Syrian-backed Lebanese government to postpone the election until it could be held "in an atmosphere of total reconciliation."
"I am pleased to announce that the party has decided unanimously not to participate in the elections. I ask all Falangist candidates to withdraw their candidacy," Saadeh told a news conference.
There was no immediate government reaction to the Falangist decision, which came despite the administration's platform of national reconciliation.
Christians believe the election would be unfair if held while Syria props up its local allies, including President Elias Hrawi, a Maronite Christian, with armed forces.
They want the election postponed until after the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Beirut in September as agreed to in a 1990 Muslim-Christian peace pact that ended 15 years of civil war.