BEIRUT: It was Wednesday again at Nijmeh Square in Downtown Beirut. Strict security measures were in place as journalists headed to Parliament way before the scheduled time of the session called for by Speaker Nabih Berri to elect a president.
In many respects, the atmosphere outside Parliament resembled that of last week, when the legislature held its first round to elect a president.
Reporters and cameramen gathered at Parliament’s entrance, scrambling to speak or take photos of MPs arriving in their luxurious cars.
Mirroring the outcome of the previous session, Parliament failed to elect a president this week once again, with most March 8 MPs absent, preventing a quorum.
In what has become a regular occurrence every time there is a session, unions protested at nearby Riad al-Solh Square, demanding the approval of a draft law to raise salaries. This led to heightened security measures and road closures implemented by the Lebanese Army and Internal Security Forces, congesting traffic at rush hour in the area where many banks and companies are located.
But traffic did not appear to be a problem for some MPs who made it to Parliament early.
Among the first to arrive were MPs Ali Bazzi and Qassem Hashem, from Speaker Nabih Berri’s parliamentary bloc, joined by Transport and Public Works Minister Ghazi Zeaiter, also a lawmaker from the speaker’s bloc. The three exchanged jokes at Nijmeh Square outside Parliament.
“Welcome Mr. President,” Bazzi jokingly told approaching MP Henry Helou. Helou is a presidential candidate from Walid Jumblatt’s bloc.
MPs Ziad Aswad and Simon Abi Ramia were among the few lawmakers from Michel Aoun’s bloc who showed up but did not head to the General Assembly Hall.
“I’m not going in because this is not a serious session to elect a president,” Aswad told The Daily Star.
“If I were to attend, I would vote for martyr Brig. Khalil Kanaan,” Aswad said, referring to a Lebanese Army officer assassinated during the Civil War by the Lebanese Forces militia, then headed by Samir Geagaea, now a presidential candidate.
“I would surprise MPs by voting for a new martyr during every round,” Aswad said.
During last week’s round, Aswad and some other March 8 MPs wrote the names of people allegedly killed by Geagea during Lebanon’s 1975-90 Civil War.
Currently the head of the Lebanese Forces, Geagea denies involvement in any of the murders and argues that the accusations he was charged with were fabricated by the Syrian regime that controlled Lebanon between 1990 and 2005. Geagea was arrested in 1994 and sentenced to life in prison on charges of assassinating Prime Minister Rashid Karami in 1987 and National Liberal Party leader Dany Chamoun in 1990. He was released in 2005 when Parliament passed a general amnesty.
Future bloc MP Khaled Daher, who was absent from last week’s session for unclear reasons, said he would adhere to his group’s decision to vote for Geagea.
“I will not vote for Bashar Assad or his allies, rather for someone who will preserve Lebanon’s sovereignty and unity,” he said. He praised Geagea as an “honest ally” who was an “honorable enemy” during the Civil War.
Aswad headed to the Parliament’s pressroom where he and Abi Ramia made comments to OTV, a television station affiliated with Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement. The two MPs disappeared shortly after.
Hezbollah MPs Ali Fadlallah and Nawar Saheli along with other March 8 lawmakers appeared in Parliament one hour prior to the session to attend a gathering organized in solidarity with Lebanese journalists Ibrahim al-Amin and Karma al-Khayyat, summoned by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon last week over charges of obstructing justice. Most the MPs who came to the gathering left Parliament once the event was over.
Attending the session to elect a president were most March 14 MPs along with lawmakers from Jumblatt’s bloc. Jumblatt himself was present this time.
MPs headed to the General Assembly, greeting each other and chatting, waiting for Berri to adjourn the session.
Some even left before Berri’s decision, such as Future Movement MP Bahia Hariri and MP Marwan Fares, from Berri’s bloc.
But the rest didn’t wait much longer, as Berri adjourned the session due to the lack of quorum, and called another next Wednesday. Present were 75 MPs only, with the session requiring at least 86 out of Parliament’s 128 MPs to kick off.
As usual, Jumblatt was seen leaving Parliament amid light security measures, driving his own SUV with Health Minister Wael Abu Faour in the passenger’s seat.
As they left, some MPs were arguing over the exact number of lawmakers who entered the General Assembly Hall.
But regular Lebanese remained apathetic to what was happening in Parliament, sharing their thoughts on social media.
“Our generation cares more about [George] Clooney’s Lebanese fiance than the Lebanese presidential election,” tweeted one university student.
“Are we going to be stuck in traffic and will Downtown Beirut be closed every Wednesday until the election of a new president in Lebanon,” tweeted a political science professor.