Lebanese Candidates Reflect Past and Future

Lebanon's (search) wild and sorrowful history and its hope for the future are reflected in the candidates standing in its elections — the uncle of a Sept. 11 (search) hijacker, an ex-prisoner of the Israelis, the widow of an assassinated president-elect, the wife of a jailed warlord.

The elections — which began on May 29 and end in a final round Sunday — are the first held without foreign interference in three decades, and many of the candidates could not have run in the past, when Syrian military intelligence agents controlled much of Lebanese life.

Syrian troops withdrew in April, ending a 29-year presence in Lebanon. The other main foreign contender in Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war, Israel, pulled its forces from the south in 2000. The race now is seeing the return of many figures from that civil war — but often in new, unexpected alignments.

One is Michel Aoun, former military commander who lost a war against Syrian forces in 1989 and returned from France in May after 14 years' exile.

Never tested at the ballot box, he scored a stunning victory after campaigning for change and against corruption — and allying with several major pro-Syrian figures.

"People have tried the political class and are tired of it," said Fayez Ghosn, an Aoun-backed candidate in the north, where voting in the staggered election is held Sunday. "There is a (new) class emerging and will be leading the way," he said in a televised interview.

There is also the hope for the future.

Saad Hariri, a 35-year-old political novice, expects to lead the biggest bloc in parliament. He is the son of slain former Premier Rafik Hariri, whose February assassination sparked protests and international uproar that forced Syria to withdraw from Lebanon.

To win a majority in parliament, however, Saad's allies must win 21 of the 28 seats up for grabs Sunday in the north.

One of his allies seeking a northern seat is the wife of Samir Geagea, a notorious former Christian warlord now in prison for killing his political opponents.

Setrida Geagea has taken up the leadership of the right-wing Lebanese Forces group, the Christians' former civil war militia, relaying instructions from her husband.

In early June, she stumped on the campaign trail alongside Hariri before a mostly Muslim crowd in Akkar — one of several mainly Muslim towns in the constituency she's seeking.

The appearance would have been unthinkable a few months ago, when her group was rejected as extremist, outlawed by the government and allied with unpopular Israel. But the group gained acceptance after it joined Muslims and other Christians in anti-Syria demonstrations in Beirut after Rafik Hariri's assassination.

At the rally, Geagea said she came to Akkar "to consecrate this great dream ... of national unity."

Solange Gemayel — the widow of Bashir Gemayel, the right-wing Christian president-elect who was killed in a bomb blast in 1982 days before he was scheduled to take office — won in Beirut uncontested.

When she declared her candidacy, even her ally in the opposition, Walid Jumblatt, complained that the Gemayels may not be acceptable for Muslim voters whom she will represent in Parliament.

"How can she walk in Barbour?" Jumblatt, the Druse leader, asked, referring to a Muslim neighborhood in her constituency. But political bargaining finally got her onto the main opposition ticket, and Jumblatt had a change of heart. "We'll go together to Barbour," he said.

One winner in the east was Hassan Yacoub, the son of Sheik Mohammed Yacoub who disappeared with Imam Mousa Sadr, the Lebanese Shiite Muslim spiritual leader, on a trip to Libya in 1978. Lebanese blame Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi for kidnapping them.

Another is Jamal Jarrah, a bank manager and an uncle of Ziad Jarrah, the Lebanese student who was one of the 19 hijackers that carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States. Ziad Jarrah is believed to have been the pilot of United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in a Pennsylvania field.

Two days before in last week's round of voting in the east, he urged people to vote for "moderation ... in order to bring down the symbols of tutelage" — a common reference to Syria. Repeated attempts by The Associated Press to reach Jarrah were unsuccessful.

In southern Lebanon, an ex-Communist guerrilla who spent 17 years in an Israeli jail, Anwar Yassin, ran in hopes of ending the lock that the two big Shiite parties, Hezbollah and Amal, have on the area. But he lost.

"I wanted to break the monopoly," said Yassin, who returned home last year in a prisoner swap with Israel.