Lebanon: Extension vote For Extending Paliament term secured, most Christians not on board

341

Lebanon: Extension vote For Extending Paliament term secured, most Christians not on board
Hussein Dakroub| The Daily Star
Nov. 01, 2014
BEIRUT: Although key Christian parties are split over next week’s session on the extension of Parliament’s mandate, a majority of lawmakers are widely expected to endorse the controversial move in a bid to prevent the country from sinking into further political chaos.
Lawmakers from the Kataeb Party and the Lebanese Forces will attend Wednesday’s legislative session and vote against a draft proposal to extend Parliament’s mandate for two years and seven months, officials from the two parties said Friday. “The five Kataeb MPs will attend Wednesday’s session and vote against the extension proposal,” a senior Kataeb official told The Daily Star. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he expected MPs from the LF and MP Michel Aoun’s Change and Reform bloc to join the Kataeb Party in voting against the extension bill. “All Christian lawmakers will attend to ensure the constitutionality of the session as demanded by Speaker Nabih Berri,” he said. He added that only Marada Movement leader MP Sleiman Frangieh’s bloc would vote for the extension proposal, in addition to independent Christian MPs and Christian MPs from the Future Movement, Berri’s bloc and MP Walid Jumblatt’s bloc.
Lebanese Forces MP Antoine Zahra said that the party’s eight lawmakers would attend the session, but no decision had been taken yet on whether to vote for or against the extension proposal. “More than half of Christian lawmakers will attend the session on the extension of Parliament’s term,” Zahra told The Daily Star. He said the LF’s decision on voting would be taken ahead of Wednesday’s session. However, a senior LF source said the eight Lebanese Forces lawmakers would attend the session and vote against the extension bill. The Daily Star’s attempts to reach MPs from Aoun’s bloc were unsuccessful, even though the Free Patriotic Movement leader has repeatedly vowed to oppose any new extension of Parliament’s term, which expires on Nov. 20. Aoun’s bloc had opposed and challenged the first extension of Parliament’s mandate for 17 months in May last year.
In an interview with Al-Manar TV Friday night, Education Minister Elias Abou Saab said MPs from Aoun’s bloc would attend the session and vote against the extension of Parliament’s term. Culture Minister Raymond Areiji, who represents Frangieh’s Marada Movement in the Cabinet, said his party would vote on the extension of Parliament’s mandate.“The Marada Movement has taken a firm decision to attend the legislative session to vote for Parliament’s extension,” Areiji told the Voice of Lebanon radio station.  “We reject a vacuum and consider the extension as the lesser of two evils,” he added. Berri has scheduled a legislative session for Nov. 5 to vote on a number of draft laws, including one that would extend Parliament’s mandate.
Berri, who had initially opposed the extension of Parliament’s term, has joined the Future Movement in calling for the extension, arguing that it would be unconstitutional to form a new government during a presidential vacuum if parliamentary elections were to be held.
However, Berri warned Thursday that if the major Christian blocs, namely the FPM, the Kataeb Party, the LF and the Marada Movement, did not attend, the session would not be held. The FPM, the LF and the Kataeb Party have spoken out against the extension, but it is unlikely that their lawmakers would boycott the session.LF George Adwan, who met Berri Friday to discuss next week’s Parliament session, said the speaker had told him that he wanted Christian participation in the voting on the extension and not just the presence of Christian lawmakers. Berri also met at his residence in Ain al-Tineh with Zahle MP Nicolas Fattoush who has presented a draft proposal that calls for the extension of Parliament’s term for two years and seven months.
Deputy Speaker Farid Makari rejected Berri’s argument that the four major Christian parties represented the “Christian nerve.” He said more than half of Christian MPs do not belong to political parties.“The presence of Christian lawmakers, whether they belong to parties or are independent, will give a constitutional character to the session,” Makari told the Central News Agency. He added that Wednesday’s session would be in line with the country’s National Pact because MPs from the Marada Movement, the Tashnag Party and independent Christian lawmakers would attend. Telecommunications Minister Boutros Harb said the March 14 coalition would be forced to choose the lesser of two evils when its lawmakers vote next week to extend Parliament’s mandate, blaming Aoun and Hezbollah for putting the coalition in such a situation. “Some officials were faced with two options: Either we surrender to the political game, or confront it and have the needed courage to make tough decisions. … They presented us with difficult decisions which alone can spare the country a disaster,” Harb told a news conference in Parliament. “So we decided to confront it because there is no other alternative … as we find ourselves forced to accept what we would have never accepted under normal circumstances: An exceptional repulsive extension of Parliament’s mandate until a president is elected,” said Harb, an independent Christian MP allied with the March 14 bloc. He added that the March 14 coalition was forced to choose the extension after the FPM and Hezbollah had obstructed the presidential vote with their persistent boycott of parliamentary sessions to elect a president.