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Lebanon parliament
extends term

Ninety-five MPs voted to extend the legislature's mandate until June 2017.

Demonstrators block a road leading to parliament on Wednesday. (AFP/Joseph Eid)
Lebanon

BEIRUT – Lebanon’s parliament on Wednesday voted to extend its mandate until June 2017 amid the political deadlock paralyzing the country that has not elected a new president since Michel Suleiman left office in May.

 

Ninety-five MPs voted for the extension in a session boycotted by the March 8 coalition’s Free Patriotic Movement and the March 14 alliance’s Kataeb Party. The Armenian Tashnaq Party, meanwhile, voted against the bill, which was formally submitted by MP Nicholas Fattoush.

 

A number of civil society activists gathered outside the parliament to protest the vote, the second of its kind after the 17-month mandate extension in May 2013. Public outcry over the delayed parliamentary elections, however, has been muted in Lebanon, where most politicians have portrayed the extensions as necessary measures.

 

Wednesday’s parliament vote comes under the shadow of the political stalemate over the election of a new president. With the legislature’s mandate set to expire on November 20, the country faced a constitutional crisis if parliamentary elections or a term extension did not occur without the election of a president.

 

Following the session, Lebanese Forces MP Strida Geagea said her party voted for the new mandate because of the “obstruction of the presidential vote, which was due before the parliamentary elections.”

 

“Some people will not understand why we took the choice to extend the parliament’s term… but we want to preserve the Lebanese system and coexistence. The LF is willing to take unpopular decisions that would save the country.”

 

Gebran Bassil, Lebanon’s foreign minister and a top FPM politician, blasted the parliament extension. “We witnessed today a robbery of the parliament through the extension of its term. The dangerous part is that the extension can be repeated.”

 

Both politicians’ comments came amid the war of words between LF leader Samir Geagea and his rival, FPM leader MP Michel Aoun, both of whom traded political jabs over the extension debate on Tuesday.

 

Geagea called on the FPM, which publicly opposes a parliament extension, to join the Wednesday session and vote for a president since quorum would be achieved in the legislature for the first time in months.

 

“Since [Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah] declared that Aoun [is Hezbollah’s candidate] and I am March 14’s candidate, why not conduct a presidential election tomorrow?” he asked in a press conference in his Rabieh residence.

 

In the first round of the presidential elections on April 23, Geagea—March 14’s publicly backed candidate—did not receive the two-thirds majority needed to win the elections. March 8 MPs cast blank votes. Since then, the FPM and Hezbollah have boycotted the 13 subsequent sessions, which have not achieved the necessary quorum to hold the vote.

 

The LF leader also accused Aoun of not making any efforts to facilitate the parliamentary elections he ostensibly favors. “Why didn’t the Change and Reform deploy any effort to prepare for the elections?” Geagea asked.

 

“They think that if they cause complete void in the state institutions, and that they can change the ruling system.”

 

Aoun fired back at Geagea later on Tuesday, accusing the latter of “reading his intentions.” He also rejected the LF leader’s initiative to hold a presidential vote in Wednesday’s parliament session.

 

“When he turns his initiative into something real, then I can respond to him.”

 

In his press conference, Aoun argued that the dissolution of the parliament without a president in place would not trigger political “vacuum.” The Christian political leader elaborated that the Lebanese constitution has measures in place calling for immediate elections if the parliament’s mandate expires.

 

The legislature’s extension was long in coming, with the cabinet going through mere technical measures to prepare for a parliamentary vote as the country’s politicians did not gear up for any electoral campaigns in full expectation of a postponement.  The parliament’s largest party, the Future Movement, had already announced it would not take part in a vote in the unlikely event it happened.

Demonstrators block a road leading to parliament on Wednesday. (AFP/Joseph Eid)

Some people will not understand why we took the choice to extend the parliament’s term… but we want to preserve the Lebanese system and coexistence.