Lebanon MPs extend Parliament’s mandate by more than 2 years


Lebanon MPs extend Parliament’s mandate by more than 2 years
Nov. 05, 2014
Hasan Lakkis/Wassim Mroueh| The Daily Star

 BEIRUT: Parliament voted Wednesday to extend its mandate by an additional two years and seven months, as protesters rallied downtown to denounce the extension. Sources told The Daily Star that 95 MPs voted in favor of the extension, while two opposed.
But the extension law was coupled with a provisional clause promising a parliamentary vote after the election of a president, in which case Parliament’s term would be shortened. The vote was boycotted by the Change and Reform bloc, led by MP Michel Aoun and Kataeb Party lawmakers. Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, a member of Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement, slammed the session as a “holdup of Parliament.”
“Holding [parliamentary] elections could have been a solution to the presidential election and not vice versa,” he told a news conference from the FPM headquarters in Rabieh. “When they respect Christians’ choices, we can face ISIS and the takfiri ideology,” Bassil said.
“We understand being slaughtered by ISIS, but we don’t understand being politically slaughtered by our political partner in the homeland.”Wednesday’s vote was the second time the current lawmakers, elected in 2009 ostensibly to four-year terms, extend their mandate.
Parliament last voted to extend its term in May 2013 by 17 months, arguing at the time that elections would constitute a major security risk given the fragile situation. Aoun, and his arch Christian foe, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, had proposed last-minute plans to try to avert the much-criticized extension.
But LF lawmakers ended up voting in favor of the extension, because they considered it a national duty, MP Strida Geagea, speaking on behalf of the party, told reporters after the vote. “We would have preferred not to reach the extension [decision],” she said. But ultimately the extension was necessary “to preserve the Lebanese formula and the charter of co-existence.” MP Walid Jumblatt, head of the Progressive Socialist Party, offered a somber tweet after the vote. “Sometimes some decisions are unpopular. But risking the void would lead the country to chaos. This [is] why renewing the mandate was a must,” he wrote.
Speaker Nabih Berri had told lawmakers at the onset of the session that he would prefer if they elected a president instead. “We’re having a legislative session right now. I don’t mind that after I close the session, I turn it to one for electing a president, if quorum was maintained,” Berri told lawmakers. He made the remarks in response to MP Boutros Harb’s call to hold a presidential election. Aoun on Tuesday reiterated his party’s opposition to the parliamentary extension, saying lawmakers sought to extend their term under the excuse of a vacuum in the government. “Our preliminary stance is to reject the extension and there is nothing called vacuum in the Lebanese state. The alternative to extension is holding the election,” he said. Samir Geagea, in turn, offered his own idea to avoid a parliamentary extension, calling on Change and Reform MPs to attend Wednesday’s session and cast their vote for Aoun as president. LF MP Elie Keyrouz appealed to Aoun in an open letter Wednesday before the vote to “reconsider your objectives and take an initiative in the face of the vacuum and extension options.”“It is time to return to the constitutional logic and the logic of the continuity of the state and the political system and take a bold decision to participate in today’s session to elect a new president and vote on a proposal to amend some deadlines in electoral draft law,” Keyrouz said in his letter read from Parliament shortly before the session was scheduled to begin. Dozens of protesters, many waving Lebanese flags and holding anti-extension signs, gathered near Martyrs’ Square in downtown Beirut to denounce the proposed extension.
The protest was the latest in a series of demonstrations organized by activist group the Civil Movement for Accountability against the extension. “Your extension is occupation [of Parliament]. No to extension,” read a banner held by one protester.
Some protesters labeled lawmakers thieves. “There are thieves in there,” one activist told television reporters, pointing his finger toward Parliament. “They [MPs] are stealing our voting rights,” another protester added.
Another believed that lawmakers were “conspiring against the country.”