Lebanese Opposition to Parliament extension melts away

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Lebanese Opposition to Parliament extension melts away
Oct. 29, 2014 /Hussein Dakroub/The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun Tuesday ruled out the possibility of holding parliamentary elections, sending the strongest signal yet that the extension of Parliament’s mandate has become a foregone conclusion.
Speaker Nabih Berri said he would call a session to extend Parliament’s term in the first week of next month. Political sources said lawmakers are expected to debate and endorse a draft proposal presented by Zahle MP Nicolas Fattoush that calls for the extension of Parliament’s term for two years and seven months to make it a full four-year mandate after lawmakers, citing security concerns, extended the House’s term for 17 months in May 2013. Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, meanwhile, urged rival political leaders to end the five-month-old presidential vacuum by agreeing on a new president to ensure a transfer of power. “I call on all Lebanese leaders … to immediately launch national consultations to agree on a new president and end the vacancy in the first presidency,” Hariri said in a statement. He said the election of a successor to former President Michel Sleiman, whose six-year tenure ended on May 25, would “adjust the work in all institutions and constitutional timelines and achieve the transfer of power in accordance with the laws in force.”
Hariri’s remarks come on the eve of a Parliament session to elect a president amid signs that the new session is destined to fail like previous ones over a lack of quorum. Wednesday’s session will be the 14th aborted attempt in more than five months to elect a president.
Berri, according to visitors, reiterated his position to comply with the National Pact on partnership between Muslims and Christians in addressing the extension of Parliament’s mandate.
Berri, who met separately Tuesday with Aoun and Lebanese Forces MP George Adwan, said he informed the two men of his position.
The speaker, according to visitors, stressed the need to ensure constitutional partnership in next month’s Parliament session to extend its mandate with the presence of Christian parties. “The National Pact on partnership is applied on everyone and not on just one component,” he was quoted as saying.
Berri said he warned during his meetings with Aoun, the LF and the Kataeb Party that the failure to hold elections and extend Parliament’s mandate would plunge the country into “a parliamentary vacuum that would make it impossible to elect a new president.”
“Anyone who does not want [parliamentary] elections or an extension means that he does not want the election of a new president. In this case, let him bear responsibility,” he added.
Aoun, a staunch opponent of the extension of Parliament’s mandate, which expires on Nov. 20, acknowledged the difficulties in holding parliamentary polls, given the unstable security situation in the country. “There will be no elections and Parliament will extend its mandate. [Parliamentary] elections are out of the question,” Aoun told reporters after meeting Berri at the latter’s residence in Ain al-Tineh. Aoun, the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance’s undeclared candidate for the country’s top Christian post, said he was in agreement with Berri over the presidential vote, but he ruled out the election of a president soon.“The current circumstances are not favorable for the election. We hope the circumstances become better soon,” he said.
Aoun had earlier met with Grand Mufti Abdul-Latif Derian. “We need to overcome this situation with the least possible damage, and start a new phase characterized by national unity,” Aoun told reporters after the meeting at Dar al-Fatwa. Aoun said contacts between his bloc and Hariri have not ceased, adding he received an oral message from him Tuesday. Lebanese Forces MP George Adwan said after meeting Berri that lawmakers were left with the choice of either extending Parliament’s mandate or facing a parliamentary vacuum.
“We are in a predicament and the country is in a predicament. It is no longer a situation of either an extension [of Parliament’s term] or holding elections. Rather, it is either a [parliamentary] vacuum or an extension of Parliament’s term,” Adwan said.
Kataeb Party MP Sami Gemayel rejected the extension of Parliament’s term. “A Parliament, which has failed in everything, must not have its mandate extended,” Gemayel said after meeting Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea at the latter’s residence in Maarab.
The talks focused on the presidential deadlock and the extension of Parliament’s term. For his part, Marada Movement leader MP Sleiman Frangieh said Christians prefer a presidential void over a weak president. He said the extension of Parliament’s term is a foregone conclusion. “Christians today prefer a vacuum over a weak president and this is a positive thing,” Frangieh said a statement carried by the National News Agency.