Hussein Dakroub| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Speaker Nabih Berri was quoted as saying Wednesday he supported Prime Minister Saad Hariri to form Lebanon’s next government following Sunday’s parliamentary elections, the country’s first in nine years.
Meanwhile, a Hezbollah Cabinet member sought to allay fears that the Iranian-backed party would try to dominate Lebanon following the results of the polls in which the group and its ally, Berri’s Amal Movement, swept all but one of the 27 parliamentary seats allotted to the Shiite sect. Youth and Sports Minister Mohammad Fneish told The Daily Star that Hezbollah does not want to impose its domination over Lebanon.
Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea praised the new proportional vote law under which the weekend polls were conducted for the first time in Lebanon’s history. The LF emerged a big winner from the elections, increasing its eight lawmakers in the outgoing Parliament to 16 MPs.
“Although this [vote] law is not ideal, it has achieved true [Christian] representation. Under this law, 57 Christian MPs [out of 64 MPs] were elected by Christian votes,” Geagea said in an interview with MTV Wednesday night. “This law has solved a problem from which we have suffered for 30 years. The Lebanese Forces won 16 seats.”
He ruled out any major shift in the current balance of power in Parliament. “The political balance of power in the new Parliament is in equilibrium and similar to the outgoing Parliament’s balance,” Geagea said.
Despite strategic differences with Hezbollah, he said the LF’s “ultimate wish is to reach an understanding with Hezbollah.”
Earlier in the day, MTV quoted Berri as saying during at his summer residence in the southern town of Msaileh: “My candidate for the premiership is Prime Minister Saad Hariri regardless of his stance on the Finance Ministry.”
Berri reiterated his demand that the Finance Ministry, currently held by his top political aide, MP Ali Hasan Khalil, be retained to the Shiite sect.
Hariri was reported to be opposed to the monopoly of any ministry by any sect, favoring instead a rotation of the key ministerial portfolios: The Defense, Interior, Finance, Foreign Affairs and Public Works ministries.
Berri, according to MTV, also said that the formation of a new government following the election of a new Parliament might be delayed due to “complications.” He did not elaborate. Except for Hariri’s current government, which took only two months to be formed in December 2016, Cabinet formation attempts in the past had taken up to eight months due to horse-trading and jockeying by political rivals to grab what is known as “sovereign ministries.”
Berri, who is widely expected to be re-elected as Parliament speaker, a post he has held since 1992, was also quoted as saying that he has not yet set a date for a Parliament session to elect a new speaker, a deputy speaker, members of the legislature’s Secretariat and committees. The outgoing Parliament’s mandate, which has been extended three times since 2013 over security concerns, expires on May 20.
Although official results of the elections had all been announced, the exact makeup of parliamentary blocs remained to be seen.
The biggest winners from Sunday’s polls, marked by a weak voter turnout, are the Free Patriotic Movement, which said it had 29 MPs, including allies; the Amal Movement-Hezbollah coalition, which along with their allies can muster a bloc of more than 40 MPs; while the LF won 16 seats.
The Future Movement has lost one-third of the 32-member bloc it had held since 2009, winning 20 parliamentary seats.
However, the sweeping election win achieved by Hezbollah in its Shiite heartland in the south, the Bekaa region and Beirut’s southern suburbs prompted Western media outlets to portray the victory as an occasion for the influential party to dominate Lebanon.
“It’s not true that the election results will spur Hezbollah to put its hands on the country. The results have confirmed that Hezbollah’s populace and the large majority [of Shiites] upheld the resistance option,” Fneish told The Daily Star. “However, this does not mean that Hezbollah wants to impose its control over the country. No one can control the country.”
“The talk that Hezbollah wants to control the country is intended to raise fears. This talk is not true and does not exist in Hezbollah’s thought,” Fneish said.
“With regard to the internal [power-sharing] formula, the country is still governed by partnership and the balance of power imposed by the election results and the nature of our political system,” Fneish added.
Fneish pointed out that under the new proportional electoral law that split Lebanon into 15 districts and adopted preferential voting, which was praised by world states, “each party won MPs commensurate with the size of its representation and its alliances.”
The minister refused to answer a question on whether Hezbollah, emboldened by the election victory, would now seek a larger participation in the next government.
“It’s premature to talk about the new Cabinet,” said Fneish, one of two Hezbollah ministers.
Meanwhile, Hariri congratulated the six women who won parliamentary seats, despite the lower-than-expected success rate for female candidates. “Congratulations to the women of Lebanon for winning six parliamentary seats,” Hariri posted on his Twitter account, noting that three of the successful female candidates are members of his Future Movement. “Our march is long and will continue to defend women’s rights and support their participation in political life,” he added.
The comment came as activists and voters expressed disappointment over the fact that only two additional women will enter the new Parliament compared to the sitting one, taking the count of female MPs from four to six, despite a record 86 female candidates who ran in the elections – up from just 12 candidates in the 2009 polls.
Hariri received at his Downtown Beirut residence the Qatari Ambassador to Lebanon Ali bin Hamad Al Marri, who said after the meeting: “I came today to congratulate Prime Minister Hariri on his achievement in the parliamentary elections, and I ask God Almighty to protect Lebanon and its people, and grant them security and safety.”
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 10, 2018, on page 1.