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Pro-Syrian Parliamentary Speaker Re-Elected in Lebanon

Members of the Lebanese parliament meet during the inaugural session in Beirut
The newly elected Lebanese parliament met for its first session and re-elected the pro-Syrian speaker to serve for another term.

Although the 128-seat parliament is currently dominated by anti-Syrian members, pro-Syrian parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri secured 90 votes and returned to the seat he has occupied since 1992.

The anti-Syrian opposition coalition had announced they would support the return to power of the speaker if he promised to support some key reform changes. Many members of parliament said they felt their hands were tied in the decision since speaker Berri, a Shiite Muslim, represents one of the largest religious sects in Lebanon and no other candidate was offered to replace him.

Speaker Berri thanked the members of Parliament for their continued faith in him after winning the vote. He also alluded to his support for the defiance of a United Nations resolution that calls for Hezbollah to disarm.

Speaker Berri said if previous resolutions such as one that calls for the liberation of Lebanon from Israel are not honored, then new resolutions cannot be implemented. Hezbollah, a militant faction operating in the south of Lebanon, continues to exchange fire with Israel over the disputed Shebaa Farms region of Lebanon.

Member of Parliament, Nayla Moawad, whose husband was assassinated 17 days after becoming president of Lebanon in 1989, says she was one of the 37 who cast a blank ballot during the voting. Mrs. Moawad says although she did not vote for Speaker Berri she was encouraged by the promises he made in his acceptance speech.

"There are things that are important in the very near future like the amnesty law for Dr. Samir Geagea," she said. "But the main promises are the reforms, the accountability of the government, weekly short sessions to judge the government, and the fight against corruption."

Samir Geagea, the former leader of the Lebanese Forces, has been in jail for more than 11 years and Speaker Berri promised to push forward a law for his release in the first legislative meeting of parliament, which is expected to be held next month.

Speaker Berri will meet with Lebanese President Emile Lahoud to choose candidates for the position of Prime Minister and then the rest of the cabinet ministers are expected to be chosen by July 10.