Lebanon has a unicameral, 128-member Chamber of Deputies (Majlis al-Nuwwab), elected for a four-year term of office by universal suffrage. The seats in the parliament are allocated equally between the Christians and the Muslims, proportionately between the communities of the two groups, and proportionately between regions. Members of the parliament are responsible to the entire nation and not just to their constituencies. Confessional allegiances crosscut party allegiances.
The Lebanese National Assembly has large legislative control and influence. It plays a crucial role in the orientation of the public, economic, political, and social life of the country. The Assembly differs from many other countries in that there is no upper house to share in legislative processes.
Sessions, Dissolution, State of Exception
The Lebanese parliament has the powers of legislation and oversight. It convenes every year in two ordinary sessions for two and a half months. The first session begins on the first Tuesday after 15 March and concludes by the end of May; then the second session begins on the first Tuesday after 15 October and concludes by end of the year (December). The main object of these sessions is to study the general budget. The parliamentary by-laws specify that the Parliamentary Bureau Board consists of the speaker, the deputy speaker, two secretaries, and three commissioners. The current speaker of the parliament is Nabih Berri. The vice-president is Elie Ferzli. The secretary general is Adnan Daher and the 2 secretaries are Ayman Shoukair and Farid el Khazen. The three delegates are Antoine Haddad, Abdel Rahman Abdel Rahman, and Serge Ter Sarkissian. The Parliament Bureau writes and publishes the agenda of every meeting for the members, directs meetings and voting, declares voting results, prepares the annual budget of the parliament, controls its execution, approves staff appointments, and studies petitions and complaints.
The parliament’s mandate may be terminated by a two-thirds majority vote of its entire membership. The president of the republic may request the Council of Ministers to dissolve the parliament before the expiry of its mandate. If the Council of Ministers agrees, the president of the republic issues the decree of dissolution. New elections must follow within three months of dissolution.
According to legislative by-laws, a member of the parliament cannot be a member in more than two permanent committees, unless the third committee is the human rights committee. A permanent or special committee may elect subcommittees among their members to study specific subjects. The committees may question relevant ministries during their work on drafts. Committee votes are taken by majority; in the event of a tie, the chairperson casts the decisive vote. The committees have a month to conclude their review of draft laws and two weeks in the case of summary draft laws.
Committee Structures and Membership
The current Lebanese legislature has fifteen standing committees working in the following areas: budget and finance (17 members), administration and justice (17 members); foreign affairs and emigrants (17 members); displaced persons (12 members); agriculture and tourism (12 members); economy, trade, industry and planning; public works, transport, electric and hydraulic resources (17 members); defense, internal affairs and municipalities (17 members); education, higher education and culture; media, post and telecommunications (12 members); youth and sports, environment (12 members); public health, labor and social affairs (12 members); human rights (8 members); women and children (12 members).
During the parliamentary session, deputies have legal immunity, except by permission of the parliament or in cases of a flagrant offense. The Justice Minister must submit a description of the crime committed with any demand for legal pursuit against a member of parliament. If a demand for withdrawing a member’s immunity is submitted to the Speaker, he convenes a joint meeting of the Parliamentary Bureau Board and the parliament’s Administration and Justice Committee. The decision of withdrawing immunity is taken by a relative majority of the members of the parliament.
Legislative Drafting Processes
As soon as the draft laws, propositions and other legislative matters reach the Parliamentary Bureau, the speaker sends them to the appropriate specialized committees, unless the rules stipulate that they should be examined by the parliament first. The committee meetings, agenda, and minutes are secret, unless decided otherwise by the committee. Reports prepared by the committee are sent to the Parliamentary Bureau to be added to the general parliamentary agenda.
The initiative for laws belongs to the Chamber of Deputies and the Council of Ministers. Any law must first be passed by the Chamber of Deputies. Before putting the whole draft law or proposal of law to the vote, the parliament has the right to return it to the committee that has studied it, to another committee or to a joint committee to reconsider it. If parliament passes the law by a majority, the law is then referred to the Council of Ministers. The prime minister and concerned ministers must sign the law and refer it to the president in order for the law to be promulgated and published in the Official Gazette. The president may refer the law back to parliament for reconsideration. If the parliament passes the law again by an absolute majority of its members, it becomes law.
A quorum of two-thirds and a majority of vote are required for votes on constitutional issues. When the Assembly chooses the president of the republic or the parliamentary secretaries, or when the president is accused of treason or of violating the constitution, secret voting takes place and a two-thirds majority is needed for a proposal to be adopted.
In fact, the role of the commissionsis primarily advisory. For that reason, the work of the commissions ends by giving recommendations to the relevant government authority. In mixed commissions the decision belongs to the President of the Assembly, but in each specific commission the decision belongs to the President of the Commission.
The Lebanese National Assembly is a member of both the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and the Arab Inter-Parliamentary Union (AIPU).