Lebanon’s new legislature in its first session on Tuesday elected veteran Shia Muslim politician Nabih Beri as the speaker of parliament for a seventh term.
Berry, 84, secured 65 votes in the 128-member parliament, where the speaker’s role is reserved for a Shia Muslim under the sectarian political system.
It was the thinnest majority ever won by Berry, reflecting the makeup of a new parliament in which the Iran-backed armed Shia movement Hezbollah and its allies lost the majority won in 2018.
Tuesday’s session was the first since the new parliament was elected on May 15 in the first vote since Lebanon’s economic collapse and the 2020 Beirut port explosion.
Beri, who led the Shia Amal movement, has been a speaker since 1992 and is a close ally of Hezbollah.
Elias Bou Saab, a former education minister, was elected as deputy speaker, a role reserved for a Greek Orthodox Christian.
He won by 65 votes in the second round of voting against Bou Saab, a newcomer MP who identifies as an independent, affiliated with President Michel Aoun’s Hezbollah-aligned Free Patriotic Movement.
The winners mean Hezbollah’s allies retain two important positions in parliament.
The close meetings were the first glimpse of how fragmented and polarized Lebanon’s new parliament would be, with no single faction getting a majority.
Hezbollah’s opponents, including Saudi-aligned Lebanese forces – a Christian faction – gained seats.
About a dozen opposition newcomers took their seats for the first time after an unexpectedly strong success by reform-minded candidates in a system dominated by the same communal groups.
A group of them reached Parliament from the entrance of the port of Beirut on Tuesday morning to pay tribute to the more than 215 victims of the blast.
Opposition lawmakers cross metal barricades they opposed in 2019, when unprecedented anti-government protests rocked Lebanon.
Some of the votes cast in secret ballots were messages echoing complaints against a sectarian elite that has plunged Lebanon into its worst instability since the 1975-90 civil war.
They included votes for “justice for the Beirut explosion” along with anti-Hezbollah Shia ideologue Lokman Slim, who was killed in February 2021.
Analysts warn that divisions are likely to create a political paralysis that could further delay the passage of reform laws needed to lift Lebanon out of economic disaster and create a void in top leadership positions.
Lebanese’s system of government now requires a Maronite Christian Aun to consult with parliamentarians on his choice for prime minister, who should go to a Sunni Muslim.
Aun, who has yet to set a date for the consultation, will have to nominate the candidate with the largest support to form the cabinet – a process that could take several months.
Outgoing Prime Minister Najib Mikati is widely seen as the prime candidate for the position again.
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