Lebanon’s first post-election parliamentary session: what to expect

MPs will vote for a Parliament speaker, his deputy, and their office

A view shows a road leading to the Parliament building, that was previously blocked with concrete barriers, in Beirut on May 26, 2022. Reuters
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Lebanon’s 128 MPs are scheduled to attend the first Parliament session since their May 15 election on Tuesday.

For the first time in years, the streets surrounding Parliament will be, at least in part, cleared of large cement blocks that were erected during nationwide protests in 2019.

Legislators will be asked to elect a president, a deputy president, two secretaries and three commissioners.

Veteran Parliament Speaker, Nabih Berri, 84, is widely expected to be re-elected for the seventh time.

But analysts believe the he will probably not win as easily as before.

Representatives of Lebanon’s traditional sectarian political class, including former warlords such as Mr Berri, have become highly unpopular due to the country’s economic meltdown.

Mr Berri needs an absolute majority of 65 votes to be elected in the first round. A second and third vote are possible. On the final round, the winner is the person with the highest number of votes.

Local media reported on Monday that, while Mr Berri is guaranteed to be elected in the first or second round, he will probably receive much less support than in 2018. At this time, he won in the first round with 98 votes.

He will likely be supported by his own political party, the Amal Movement; its closest ally, Hezbollah; as well as the Druze Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) and smaller parties and other people.

Those who said that they will not vote for Mr Berri include Lebanon’s two rival Christian parties, the Lebanese Forces (19 MPs) and the Hezbollah-allied Free Patriotic Movement (18 MPs).

While the LF have called against voting for Mr Berri since they rejoined political life 2005, the FPM used not to issue clear instructions for or against his election, giving their MPs space for personal initiative.

Due to Lebanon's sectarian politics, it remains important for a Parliament speaker to receive votes from Lebanon's main religious communities, including Christians.

This year, three Armenian Christian MPs are sure to vote for Mr Berri.

An FPM source also said that a handful of the party’s legislators, known for having a close personal relationship with Mr Berri, might break away and vote for him anyway.

There is no clear alternative to Mr Berri, who was first elected in 1992, two years after the end of a 15-year civil war. Lebanon’s sectarian political system dictates that the Parliament speaker is always Shiite Muslim.

Mr Berri called on his supporters on Monday to abstain from firing shots in the air to celebrate his seventh term as Parliament speaker.

Celebratory gunfire is frequent in Lebanon and often leads to fatalities.

All 27 Shiite MPs elected on May 15 are affiliated to either Amal or its ally Hezbollah, labelled a terrorist organisation in several Western countries.

Mr Berri’s opponents will likely cast blank votes.

With Mr Berri’s re-election believed to be assured, all eyes are on the second most important job in Parliament, which is always held by a Greek Orthodox Christian: deputy Parliament speaker.

This is a significant role. The deputy speaker presides over parliamentary commissions and joint commissions.

Here is a look at potential candidates.

Elias Bou Saab

Mr Bou Saab, 55, is a member of President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement and the strongest candidate, according to Lebanese media.

He was first elected MP in 2018. He was also Education Minister from 2014 to 2016 and Defence Minister between 2019 and 2020.

State news reports that he was previously mayor of his home town of Dhour Choueir and co-founded the American University in Dubai.

He is married to famed Lebanese singer Julia Boutros, who has publicly supported Hezbollah and its ally, Syrian president Bashar Al Assad.

The FPM source told The National that Mr Bou Saab is guaranteed 22 votes from the party and its allies. Mr Bou Saab met with Mr Berri on Saturday, triggering rumours in local media that the former supported the latter’s candidacy.

The source denied such rumours. “He is going to be the next Parliament speaker. It was normal to visit him, but it doesn’t mean we’ll vote for him,” they said.

Sajih Attieh

Local media describes Mr Attieh as a figure close to former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who bowed out of politics earlier this year.

Mr Attieh was part of a delegation of four MPs from north Lebanon who visited Mr Berri on Monday.

They said that they would support Mr Berri’s candidacy as Parliament speaker and Mr Attieh’s as his deputy.

Adib Abdel Massih

Mr Abdel Massih, 55, is a businessman. His father, George, worked as a journalist with a newspaper affiliated to the Kataeb Party. He was assassinated by the Syrian Social Nationalist Party during the 1975-1990 civil war.

Mr Abdel Massih is supported by MP Michel Moawad and the Kataeb, a Christian party born during the civil war that has recently sought to distance itself from sectarian politics.

There are currently 4 Kataeb MPs in Parliament.

The Kataeb were lobbying independent and opposition MPs on Monday afternoon to vote for Mr Abdel Masih, Kataeb MP Elias Hankache told The National.

The vote of 13 opposition MPs, who are all new except for a journalist, Paula Yacoubian, who was first elected in the 2018 parliamentary election, is up for grabs.

None of those The National questioned on Monday would say who they would vote for as deputy speaker.

"No decision yet," replied MP Marc Daou, when asked for comment.

Mr Hankache said that negotiations were likely to continue into Monday evening.

Many opposition MPs prefer former head of the Beirut bar association, Melhem Khalaf, even though he publicly stated that he did not want the job of deputy Parliament speaker, according to Mr Hankache.

Ultimately, the Kataeb will "vote for whoever has the best chances," he said.

Ghassan Skaff

Local media purports that the 13 opposition MPs could also vote for Ghassan Skaff, a surgeon and independent MP elected for the first time on May 15 with the support of the PSP.

Mr Skaff told local daily L’Orient-Le Jour on Monday that he would receive votes from the Lebanese Forces, the PSP, the Kataeb, and opposition legislators.

A Lebanese Forces source told The National on Monday evening that its MPs would "allow more time for consensus around a deputy speaker", opening the door for further announcements on Tuesday morning, before the vote.

Mr Hankache declined to comment on whether the Kataeb would support Mr Skaff.

A PSP adviser did not answer a request for comment.

Updated: May 30, 2022, 10:14 PM