Parliamentarians in Lebanon overwhelmingly re-elected a politician with close ties to Hezbollah as speaker for a sixth term at the assembly’s first session since the May 6 parliamentary vote.
Shia politician Nabih Berri, a main ally of the Iran-backed militia, received 98 votes out of the 128 parliamentarians on Wednesday. Berri has been the assembly’s speaker since 1992.
Elie Ferzli, another Hezbollah ally, was elected deputy speaker – reflecting a shift in Lebanon’s political landscape in favour of the armed group.
Berri, 80, heads the Amal Movement and has been allied with Hezbollah since the end of Lebanon’s 1975-’90 civil war.
Under Lebanon’s sectarian power-sharing system, the speaker must be a Shia Muslim, the president a Maronite Christian, and the prime minister a Sunni Muslim.
The Future Movement – led by outgoing Prime Minister Saad Hariri – the Progressive Socialist Party, and the March 8 movement also supported Berri.
The focus now turns to the position of prime minister. According to Lebanon’s political system, the president must hold consultations with the main parliamentary blocs before nominating a new one.
Berri said President Michel Aoun would begin consultations with lawmakers on Thursday to pick Lebanon’s next prime minister, likely to be Hariri.
The parliamentary election, the first in nine years, saw 917 candidates from multiple parties compete for Lebanon’s 128-seat national assembly.
The vote, devised under a new proportional list system that divided the country into 15 electoral constituencies, was marked by low voter turnout – 49.2 percent.
Hezbollah and its allies made the most significant gains by winning 70 seats. Hariri’s Future Movement lost more than one-third of its power but remains the biggest Sunni-led party with 20 seats.
On Tuesday, Lebanese news outlet al-Jadeed quoted Hariri as saying a decision had been made to quickly form a new government.
“There is a decision to accelerate government formation, and I think the sanctions on Hezbollah could have a positive impact and speed up the birth of the new government,” he said.
The sanctions Hariri referred to were imposed by the United States and Gulf states on May 16 on Hezbollah, targetting the Shia movement’s top five officials, including Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah.
The move was denounced by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, who criticised Saudi Arabia’s role in supporting the sanctions.
“Collaboration with its US patron to sanction the first force to liberate Arab territory and shatter the myth of Israeli invincibility,” Zarif tweeted. “Shame upon shame.”
Some political pundits in Lebanon said whether the sanctions will play a role in the formation of a new government remains to be seen.