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Lebanon has seen the unhappy return of Nabih Berri

Makram Rabah

Published: Updated:

The recent Lebanese Parliamentary elections brought a whiff of hope as the forces of change, those who rose out of the October 17, 2019, popular protest, were able to clinch 15 seats in parliament, threatening the political elite’s monopoly and confirming that the Lebanese, at least part of them, are wagering on a new political system.

While the political establishment has survived the elections rampage, they are certainly less powerful than before. Numbers confirmed that many of the traditional political parties and leadership lost a considerable hold on their voting constituency, as some opted to vote for reformist platforms and individuals while other refrained from voting altogether.

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Many who wrote the voting phenomenon as a fluke have downplayed the limited success of the opposition. These progressive forces of change will fail to unite, or if they do, they will not be able to stand against the sectarian elite. Yet the vote on the Speaker of Parliament last week confirmed the opposite, as this bloc’s votes will not be unnoticed nor inconsequential in the future.

The Lebanese constitution stipulates that the new parliament’s first act of business should be the election of its speaker and their deputy and five members of the parliament, which forms the cabinet of the assembly.

The incumbent speaker Nabih Berri, head of the Shiite Amal Movement, was reelected for the seventh time. It’s a position he has held since 1992, becoming the longest to ever serve in this capacity. While the Lebanese constitution does not indicate the sect of any of the elected officials, custom and the power-sharing formula supposes that the speaker should be a Muslim Shiite and his deputy a Christian Greek Orthodox.

The recent Lebanese Parliamentary elections brought a whiff of hope as the forces of change were able to clinch 15 seats in parliament, threatening the political elite’s monopoly and confirming that the Lebanese are wagering on a new political system, writes Makram Rabah. (Stock photo)
The recent Lebanese Parliamentary elections brought a whiff of hope as the forces of change were able to clinch 15 seats in parliament, threatening the political elite’s monopoly and confirming that the Lebanese are wagering on a new political system, writes Makram Rabah. (Stock photo)

Berri’s reelection was always a certainty because the 27 Shiite seats in parliament are held by what is commonly referred to as the “Shiite Duo”- the Amal Movement and Hezbollah.

Coincidently, an ally of the Assad regime, Berri’s previous tenures as speaker were an extension of Syrian hegemony, which started with the Taef agreement and lasted until 2005 when former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated.

Following 2005, Berri became a pillar of the Iranian axis as he provided political legitimacy to Hezbollah, which through a series of political alliances with Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement was able to control the critical functions of what remained of the state.

For over three decades, Nabih Berri has survived as the high priest of the Lebanese archaic client list system. It’s one which saw the warlords who fought through the civil war (1975-1990) claim legitimacy through elected office and freely abuse the resources of the state. It has resulted in its total collapse.

Yet this time around, Berri did not have enough leverage or votes to be elected by an absolute majority. His win is frail as he was only able to garner 65 votes which is embarrassing for this veteran politician who in the past was able to win by a landslide. In addition, many opposition MPs used their voting ballots to send a clear message to Berri and the establishment he protects, by writing symbolic statements such as Justice to the victims to the Beirut port explosion and justice to the slain activists including Lokman Slim, confirming that they won't accept to be silenced anymore.

This symbolic win for the anti-establishment faction will pave the way for the next crucial democratic showdown, which is slated in September when the term of President Michel Aoun is set to expire.

In the past, Berri has violated the constitution by refusing to convene the parliament for over two and a half years, until the Iran axis were able to broker a deal with Aoun elected President.

Thus, the humiliating vote for Berri has weakened the chances of repeating the aforementioned scenario. Hezbollah as always will again need to use its weapons to derail the election of a president that can lead the Lebanon political and economic resurgence.

Voting a speaker and a President who vividly resembles the new members of parliament is no longer farfetched. Yet, it will require a common vision and above all a die-hard conviction that these oligarchs will not relinquish power easily, or are willing to play by the rules. The Beirut port explosion and the ongoing economic crisis stands testament to this.

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Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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