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Today Parliament will meet to elect a new speaker, deputy speaker and heads of committees. This will be the first session to be held at the Parliament building in Nejmeh Square in Downtown Beirut in the last few years, before switching locations to the more spacious theater of the UNESCO Palace. The session will be chaired by the oldest member of parliament, coincidently the outgoing speaker himself, Nabih Berri, who is expected to win re-election. However, as of last night it was still unclear which Christian blocs would vote for Berri. The Lebanese Forces has vowed not to vote for the Amal leader who has held the post uninterrupted since 1992, and although the Free Patriotic Movement echoed this sentiment, Al-Akhbar reported yesterday that Hezbollah was working behind the scenes to secure Christian support for Berri. If no candidate for the speakership secures an overall majority of votes in the first two rounds, then the candidate with the most votes in the third round wins. Yesterday, the Amal Movement thanked MPs who had expressed interest in voting for Berri. The outgoing speaker also called on supporters not to partake in celebratory gunfire should he win the vote. Meanwhile, the real competition this year is the election of deputy speaker. There has been much speculation over who this role would go to, with the main contenders being FPM MP Elias Bou Saab,Lebanese Forces MP Ghassan Hassabni and independent MPs Ghassan Skaff and Sajih Atiyeh. Keep up with our live coverage of the Parliament session.
Protesters gathered in front of the Beirut port this morning to show support for the opposition MPs ahead of the first Parliament meeting at 11 a.m. This includes around 60 protestors, including the families of victims of the Aug. 4 Beirut explosion, demanding for justice, and newly elected opposition MP in Beirut II, Ibrahim Mneimneh. Mneimneh said that the port blast case is a priority for him and his opposition colleagues, adding, “It’s a moment of change to see opposition MPs in the Parliament… We [opposition MPs] are doing this symbolic stand to say that this is a primary issue for us.”
Yesterday, banks began processing requests from clients looking to convert Lebanese lira to US dollars. However, banking sources told L’Orient Today that limits are being imposed on the amount of lira individual clients may exchange, contrary to what the central bank stated in its announcement of the program on Friday. Several bankers also told L’Orient Today that their institutions are only processing requests from personal account holders and not from commercial ones, which also contradicts Friday’s central bank statement. Limits for personal account holder transactions currently fall between LL75 million and LL100 million per month, or between $3,000 and $4,000 when calculated at the the most recent average Sayrafa platform exchange rate of LL24,600. Last Friday, Banque du Liban announced that all persons and establishments wishing to change their lira to US dollars could do so at commercial banks amid a plummet in the value of the lira against the US dollar. BDL instructed all commercial banks to keep their branches open until 6 p.m. yesterday, today and tomorrow. It has also instructed them to pay public sector employees their salaries in US dollars at the Sayrafa rate. According to a statement released by Lebanon’s central bank, the value of transactions on the Sayrafa platform reached a record of $196 million yesterday.
Bread prices decreased after the lira made gains over the weekend. Yesterday, the Economy Ministry announced that prices were lowered for a small bread bundle (370 grams) by LL2,000 to reach LL7,000, and that medium size bags (875 grams) would now cost LL12,000, down LL3,000 from a previous high of LL15,000. Additionally, a family bundle (1,055 grams) was priced on Monday at LL14,000 lira, after it was priced at LL16,000. The Economy Ministry cited the decline in the lira-to-dollar exchange rate as the reason for this change. Before the lira made gains last Friday after BDL’s announcement, bread prices were skyrocketing, with some bags being sold on the black market for as much as LL30,000.
In case you missed it, here’s our must-read story from yesterday: Deputy speaker election: the opposition tries to come together.