Hizbullah allies set to take top posts in Lebanon’s parliament

Saad al-Hariri expected to continue as PM but faces tough negotiations to form government

Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah  addresses  supporters in Beirut, Lebanon,  via video link on May 14th. Photograph:  Aziz Taher/Reuters

Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah addresses supporters in Beirut, Lebanon, via video link on May 14th. Photograph: Aziz Taher/Reuters

 

Lebanon’s parliament is set to re-elect Nabih Berri as its speaker on Wednesday, extending the veteran politician’s tenure in a post he has held since 1992, after a general election that strengthened the hand of Iran-backed Hizbullah and its allies.

Mr Berri (80) is head of the Shia Amal Movement and has been a close ally of the heavily armed Shia Hizbullah since the end of the 1975-90 civil war. Outgoing prime minister Saad al-Hariri, a Hizbullah opponent, has declared his support for him.

Mr Berri is running unopposed for the post reserved for a Shia in Lebanon’s sectarian power-sharing system. In anticipation of Mr Berri’s re-election, his office issued a statement urging supporters to avoid celebratory gunfire.

Another Hizbullah ally, Elie Ferzli, is a leading candidate to be elected deputy parliament speaker, reflecting a shift in the political landscape in favour of Hizbullah since the last Lebanese general election in 2009.

Mr Ferzli, like Mr Berri and Hizbullah, has close ties to the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad.

Parties and individuals who back Hizbullah’s possession of arms won at least 70 of parliament’s 128 seats. The last time Lebanon held an election, in 2009, an anti-Hizbullah alliance led by Mr Hariri and backed by Saudi Arabia won a majority.

The deputy speaker position, reserved for a Greek Orthodox Christian, has been held by a Hizbullah opponent since 2005, the year Syrian troops were forced to withdraw from Lebanon after the assassination of Rafik al-Hariri, Saad’s father.

Tough negotiations

Mr Hariri has declared his opposition to Mr Ferzli, who is closely associated with the era of Syrian domination of Lebanon.

He is one of a group of pro-Hizbullah and pro-Damascus politicians whom the May 6th election returned to public office for the first time since 2005. Mr Ferzli was information minister at the time of the Hariri assassination.

Once parliament has elected its speaker, President Michel Aoun, a Maronite Christian, will consult MPs on their choice for the post of prime minister, which is reserved for a Sunni.

Mr Hariri is widely expected to be named premier again and faces tough negotiations to form a coalition government that will group all Lebanon’s main parties, including Hizbullah.

Mr Hariri lost more than a third of his seats, many of them to Hizbullah or Hizbullah-allied politicians. Mr Hariri has blamed a new electoral system and shortcomings by his Future Movement for the losses. He has launched an internal shake-up of the party.

The make-up of the new parliament has raised expectations the incoming government will move to widen ties with Syria, particularly as Mr Aoun and other Lebanese leaders seek the return to Syria of some 1 million refugees in Lebanon.

The staunchly anti-Hizbullah Lebanese Forces (LF) party, led by Maronite politician Samir Geagea, has said its MPs will cast blank ballots in Wednesday’s vote. The LF almost doubled its number of MPs seats in the election, winning 15 seats.

The LF has nominated its own candidate for the position of deputy speaker, Anis Nassar. – Reuters