Lebanon re-elects Nabih Berri as speaker for seventh term

Lebanon re-elects Nabih Berri as speaker for seventh term.

Mena, TGO: Lebanese lawmakers re-elected Nabih Berri as parliament speaker Tuesday for a seventh consecutive term, cementing his reputation as an immovable centerpiece of the country’s political landscape.

Berri’s candidacy went largely unchallenged but opponents and independent lawmakers expressed their objections by writing slogans instead of names on their ballots.

Aged 84, the warlord-turned-politician is one of the longest-serving chiefs of any parliament in the world, having held his post for 30 years.

An ally of the powerful Hezbollah group, Berri has weathered decades of turbulence and shifting political tides, including the current economic crisis and a 2019 protest movement demanding wholesale political reform.

Even after parliamentary elections in May yielded modest but unprecedented gains for independent candidates, Berri’s position remained largely unchallenged.

He clinched a new four-year term during parliament’s opening session on Tuesday with the votes of just 65 of parliament’s 128 members. That was down from the 98 votes he secured in 2018.

Opponents spoiled their ballots with a variety of political slogans.

“Justice for the victims of the Beirut blast,” read one ballot, referring to a 2020 explosion at the capital’s port that killed more than 200 people.

“Lokman Slim,” read several ballots, referring to a Hezbollah critic who was found murdered in his car last year.

Berri will preside over a deeply fragmented parliament prone to the kind of deadlock that has paralysed Lebanese politics for decades.

Lawmakers will be called upon to push through long-overdue reforms to stem a financial crisis that has plunged most Lebanese into poverty.

Berri’s Amal Movement and Hezbollah hold all 27 Shia-allocated seats in parliament but lack an overall parliamentary majority.

Berri’s re-election Tuesday was largely expected and held within legal deadlines but intense political horse-trading is expected in the coming months.

Observers have warned of protracted deadlocks during consultations to name a new prime minister and in the run-up to an election later this year to replace President Michel Aoun.

Ahead of Tuesday’s session, independent lawmakers born out of the 2019 protest movement joined relatives of the victims of the Beirut port blast in a symbolic march.A lawyer by training, Berri won power as a militia leader during the 1975-1990 civil war and transitioned to politics as the war ended.He was named minister several times between 1984 and 1992.

That year, in the first polls after the war ended, Berri was simultaneously elected a member and speaker of parliament — the highest post for a Shia in the country’s sectarian political system.