SUN 21 - 4 - 2019
Date: May 21, 2018
Source: The Daily Star

Folder: Elections
Lebanon enters new political phase
Ghinwa Obeid| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: With the term of the current Parliament ending midnight Monday Lebanon is set to enter a new political phase this week, with the election of the speaker and a final Cabinet meeting before the government enters caretaker status. Since 2013, Parliament has extended its mandate three times, but its present term will conclude after the first general elections in nine years were held May 6 based on a new electoral law.

The country’s parliamentary blocs are set to hold deliberations to decide on whom they will support for the speaker and deputy speaker posts following the dissolution of Parliament. Although current Speaker Nabih Berri is set to be re-elected uncontested in Wednesday’s session, it is yet to be seen whether he will be re-elected unanimously or if there will be any dissenting votes.

The second battle is that for the deputy speaker post, with at least three names being circulated to contest for the position, which is customarily held by an MP of the Greek Orthodox faith.

Each of the incoming MPs Elie Ferzli, Elias Bou Saab and Anis Nassar are reportedly competing for the deputy speaker post.

Both Ferzli, a former deputy speaker, and Bou Saab are part of the Free Patriotic Movement’s Strong Lebanon bloc, while Nassar is a member of Lebanese Forces’ Strong Republic bloc.

Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Joumblatt said Sunday that the Democratic Gathering parliamentary bloc, which is affiliated to his Progressive Socialist Party, would support Berri for re-election.

Joumblatt made the announcement after meeting with Berri at the latter’s Ain al-Tineh residence.

“Now that the elections are over and we are [approaching] the elections for speaker, the Democratic Gathering will choose Berri,” Joumblatt told reporters.

Joumblatt added that he would recommend in a bloc meeting to be held Monday that the members vote for Ferzli as deputy speaker.

“Some might not want to elect Ferzli, but I will recommend that he be selected,” he said.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s government is slated to hold a final meeting before Hariri resigns and the government moves to serve in a caretaker capacity. Ministers will gather at Baabda Palace in a session to be headed by President Michel Aoun where they will discuss a 59-item agenda comprised of issues that weren’t tackled during a Cabinet session last week.

Items related to the electricity sector, which is plagued with problems and allegations of corruption, are also on the agenda.

The real challenge begins after the election of a speaker, where Aoun will call for binding consultations with parliamentary blocs to discuss their choice for forming the new government, with Hariri expected to be designated.

Political parties are set to wrangle over control of certain key ministries, which is expected to present a hurdle for the formation of the government, while recent U.S. sanctions on Hezbollah could also prove problematic, according to comments from the education minister.

“U.S. sanctions against Hezbollah will obstruct the formation of the government,” Marwan Hamadeh said Sunday, speaking in a radio interview.

Hamadeh added that Lebanon “should be distanced from political tension in order to preserve its security and stability.”

The sanctions were imposed by the U.S. last week on high-ranking Hezbollah members, but it is yet to be clear how the new sanctions could impact the composition of the new government.

Nevertheless, Hariri Saturday said that he thinks the formation of a government might not take long, indicating that Hezbollah will be part of it.

“Aren’t all political sides saying that we should move quickly in forming a government?” the premier asked reporters on the sidelines of an iftar that was held at the residence of Saudi Minister Plenipotentiary Charge d’Affaires Walid al-Bukhari. “This means that [they] have the desire to facilitate things and hence I don’t think it will take much time.”

The iftar was attended by Saudi envoy Nizar al-Aloula in addition to several other leaders and ministers, including Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil who represented the Amal Movement in Cabinet.

“When we are talking about a government that [ensures] agreement in the country [then] it [will include] everyone,” Hariri said, responding to a question on whether there is a move to form a government without Hezbollah.

Speaking at the event, Hariri said that Saudi Arabia always brings Lebanese together. He added that the kingdom wants Lebanon to remain united and remain committed to the 1989 Taif Accord that ended the 1975-90 Lebanese Civil War.

“Countries of the Arabian Gulf stood by Lebanon’s side in the most difficult circumstances and didn’t at any point interfere in the affairs of brethren countries,” he said. “And what is requested from us in return is to dissociate ourselves from interfering in the affairs of brethren countries,” Hariri added in clear reference to Hezbollah, which has been accused of supporting the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in the Yemeni war and has fought alongside President Bashar Assad’s forces in Syria.

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