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Lebanon’s Reform MPs Want Long-Standing Speaker Out   

FILE - A general view shows the parliament building, ahead of the parliamentary election, in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, May 12, 2022.

Lebanon’s newly elected parliament begins its mandate Sunday, and one of its first acts is to elect a speaker and deputy speaker.

The speaker position is held by a Shiite Muslim, and Hezbollah ally Nabih Berri has headed the parliament since 1992. Observers say reformist lawmakers and others in the new legislature see Berri as part of the long-standing problem related to corruption and Iran-backed Hezbollah influence.

Observers say that it is not just the more than a dozen independents and reformists along with 19 lawmakers from the Lebanese Forces, a mainly Christian party and critic of Hezbollah and Iran, that do not want long-standing speaker Nabih Berri to keep his post. Even President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement is against Berri’s nomination.

FILE - Lebanese Parliament speaker Nabih Berri strikes his gavel at the end of a parliamentary session in parliament in Beirut, May 31, 2013.
FILE - Lebanese Parliament speaker Nabih Berri strikes his gavel at the end of a parliamentary session in parliament in Beirut, May 31, 2013.

Habib Malik of the Lebanese American University tells VOA that this new parliament would like to see Berri, who has been around for nearly three decades, replaced by another Shiite leader.

“An important milestone now will be the election of the speaker of the chamber. Nabih Berri, who has been there, is posed to want to return. There are mounting calls against him, and a lot of the new MPs will not vote for him. But here’s again where Hezbollah can play tricks and try to bring him,” he said.

Dania Koleilat Khatib, with the Issam Fares Institute at the American University of Beirut, tells VOA that all the Shiite lawmakers are either from Berri’s Amal Movement political party or Hezbollah, so an independent Shiite lawmaker is unlikely.

“Will they vote for Berri to become again as speaker of the parliament? They’re saying that Berri might now, just to save face — to say that he was outvoted — he will say that I will retire. He will suggest one of his people to be the speaker of the parliament. Someone, of course, that he can control 100%,” she said.

Development and Liberation is the parliamentary bloc of the Amal Movement in the Lebanese parliament, headed by Berri. One of the bloc’s members, Michel Moussa, told the Saudi Arab News daily that “In this defining stage, parliamentary blocs communicate with one another to voice their positions on Berri's candidacy, while it is only natural for him to be running.”

Moussa says that the lawmakers will have 15 days to elect the speaker. If Berri is elected by acclamation, this will be his seventh term.

Without the speaker’s election, the process of assigning a new prime minister to form Lebanon’s next government would be disrupted.

Meanwhile, Berri’s former deputy speaker and Hezbollah ally, Elie Ferzli, lost a parliamentary seat that he held for the past 30 years in last week’s elections, and he will be replaced.