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Lebanon elections 2022: when will parliament get to work and what happens next?

by May 19, 2022Arab News

The Lebanese voted on Sunday for 128 legislators in the first parliamentary election since the country’s economic collapse, one of the world’s largest non-nuclear explosions in recent history and the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Interior Ministry announced final results on Tuesday. Allies of Iran-backed Hezbollah lost several seats, 13 new opposition figures were voted in, and a handful of veteran pro-Syrian politicians were pushed out. Lebanon’s two rival Christian parties are expected to engage in a fierce struggle over power.

This new polarised parliament has a difficult task ahead. Lebanon urgently needs an IMF bail-out, but to get it, legislators must agree and vote in a significant number of reform laws that previous parliaments have failed to do.

Here is a breakdown of what to expect in the coming weeks from the new parliament.

The new parliament’s mandate starts on May 22. Legislators will then have 15 days to hold a session to elect a new parliament speaker and a deputy. The constitution stipulates that the session will be convened by the oldest legislator, with veteran parliament speaker Nabih Berri, 84, the most likely candidate.

Who can be parliament speaker?

Lebanon’s 1943 National Pact dictates that the parliament speaker is always a Shiite Muslim. That is because of the nature of the country’s sectarian politics. Confessional groups are guaranteed certain state positions or quotas.

Lebanon has had the same parliament speaker since 1992, when it organised its first post-civil war elections. That incumbent, Mr Berri, heads the Amal movement, a political party that is Iran-backed Hezbollah’s main ally in Lebanon.

While Hezbollah is labelled a terrorist organisation, Mr Berri is widely viewed as having good relations with the US and with western-backed Lebanese political parties, including the Druze Progressive Socialist Party and the now-defunct, but previously influential Sunni Muslim Future Movement.

Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri at a press conference in Beirut, Lebanon, March 14, 2022. EPA

How does voting work?

There is no official way to present one’s candidacy for the job of parliament speaker. For the person to be elected in the first round, he or she must receive an absolute majority of the votes cast, or 65 votes. Blank votes are not registered.

If no one is elected, there is a second vote. A third and final round is possible, and the winner is the person with an absolute majority of votes. Voting is secret.

Will Nabih Berri be re-elected?

This is the million-dollar question. There is no clear alternative to Mr Berri. All 27 Shiite MPs elected on Sunday are affiliated to either Hezbollah or Amal.

Blocs have not yet been formed in the new parliament, but a preliminary analysis of its composition indicates that Hezbollah, Amal and allies control 59 seats. They are highly likely to vote for Mr Berri.

The Progressive Socialist Party’s eight MPs are also expected to vote for him as a result of his long-standing personal friendship with the party’s Druze leader, Walid Joumblatt. If they do, that would represent about 67 votes in total and would be enough to secure him a win at the first round.

Those who are expected to vote against Mr Berri include the Christian Lebanese Forces and their allies (21 seats), opposition figures (13 seats), and Christian party Kataeb (five seats). The votes of the remaining independent MPs is up in the air.

Although they might not be able to unseat him, those opposed to Mr Berri may cast blank votes to express their discontent, said constitutional expert Wissam Lahham. “That would mean that he would win in the third round with 50 or 60 votes,” he said.

In the unlikely event that Mr Berri is not re-elected, Lebanon is expected to face major social unrest, Mr Lahham said. Amal supporters are often involved in violent altercations. They stopped an opposition rally from convening in one of their strongholds in south Lebanon in April with gunshots and beatings.

What about the parliament speaker’s deputy?

The job of deputy speaker of parliament is an influential role and is always held by a Greek Orthodox Christian. Elie Ferzli, who was first elected MP in 1992, became deputy speaker after the previous parliamentary election, in 2018. But he was not re-elected this year.

Mr Ferzli was often ridiculed on social media after nationwide protests in October 2019 for his quick temper. In February 2021 he threatened to expel the World Bank regional director, Saroj Kumar Jha, and seemingly intentionally mispronounced his name in an attempt at ridicule after Mr Jha rebuked MPs for skipping the queue and receiving Covid-19 vaccines early.

“The focus now is on this job,” said Jean Tawile, a member of Kataeb’s political office. Mr Ferzli could be replaced by either Melhem Khalaf, an opposition figure and former head of the Beirut Bar Association, former health minister Ghassan Hasbani, from the Lebanese Forces, or former defence minister Elias Bou Saab, who is close to the presidency.

“It’s an important role in the sense that the deputy speaker presides [over] all parliamentary commissions and joint commissions,” Mr Tawile said.

What is parliament going to do?

In addition to voting in laws, parliament will be responsible for approving a new prime minister, who is chosen, usually, after months of back-door negotiations. Meanwhile, Lebanon’s economy is expected to further deteriorate. Parliament’s approval is normally a formality because political parties have agreed on a prime minister by then.

The current government’s last meeting will be on Friday at 2.30pm. It will be headed by President Michel Aoun at the presidential palace. It will then become a caretaker government.

Later this year, parliament will elect a new president. Mr Aoun, 88, has been pushing for his son-in-law and political heir, MP Gebran Bassil. Mr Aoun’s mandate ends on October 31.

But his Christian rivals, the western-backed Lebanese Forces, obtained more seats than Mr Bassil’s party in the last election. They are expected to fiercely oppose his nomination.

Choosing a president can take months, even years.

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