Rock star, fisherman bid for Lebanon poll

BEIRUT: A rock star, a fisherman and an unemployed bachelor have thrown their hats in the ring for Lebanon's legislative election hoping to make a change in a country run by political dynasties.

The trio, among 587 candidates standing in the June 7 vote, realise that theirs is a David and Goliath struggle but insist that they will see the fight through right to the end.

"We saw what politicians made of this country in the past 40 years," rocker Ghassan Rahbani told AFP in an interview. "Lebanon cannot always be enclosed in and represented by corruption and mafiosi."

"We have to start to change."

The election will pit the Sunni-led Western-backed parliamentary majority against a Hezbollah-led alliance supported by Syria and Iran.

Most of the candidates hail from political dynasties or are seasoned politicians but a small number like Rahbani are entering the political ring for the first time.

Rahbani, son of renowned musician Elias Rahbani and the nephew of Lebanese diva Fairuz, is backed by Christian leader Michel Aoun, who is allied with the militant group Hezbollah.

He admits being more comfortable on stage than on the campaign trail.

"I don't own a suit, I got married in jeans and I bought my first tie for my nomination as a candidate," he said, sporting a Harley Davidson T-shirt.

Rahbani said he doesn't feel threatened by Hezbollah even though he may not adhere to the party's strict Islamic principles.

"I'm a believer in the American dream, and I don't have a problem dealing with my Shiite brothers in Lebanon," he said. "All I ask is that my voice be heard."

One of his songs encourages voters to "take their money and vote against them," a reference to claims that some political parties are doling out money and services to win votes.

For fisherman Mahmood Khaled, nicknamed Abu Karam, it's all about standing up for Lebanon's poor and downtrodden.

"I have no offices and no money," the mustachioed 47-year-old father of 15 told AFP.

Khaled admitted that he has little chance of making it into parliament but hopes his campaign will nonetheless force politicians to pay attention to residents of northern Lebanon, many of whom live below the poverty line.

"I am the candidate of the poor and also the poorest of the candidates," his campaign ads proclaim.

Pierre Hashash, the 37-year-old bachelor who has no regular job, sings a similar tune.

"I'm sending a message to the ruling class that the sons of the poor too have the right to run and express their points of view," said Hashash, who spends most of his free time at a seaside caf� in his hometown of Batroun, north of Beirut, chatting with the local folk.

He has already made three failed bids for parliament and gained nationwide notoriety for his unorthodox campaign slogans and pictures.

One slogan sarcastically warns voters that they will be up to their knees in tar, in reference to a frenzy of road repairs undertaken by local politicians throughout the country ahead of election day.

Whether Lebanese voters will be won over by Rahbani, Khaled or Hashash and cast ballots in their favour is anyone's guess.

Many Lebanese say they have at least livened the electoral scene.

"I would vote for the fisherman because he's the antithesis of everything else available, which hasn't done us any good for years now," said Hiba Sahyouni, a 28-year-old anthropologist.

"He's kind of speaking back and he deserves a chance."