BEIRUT: Attempts to extend Parliament’s mandate gained momentum Tuesday as Zahle MP Nicolas Fattoush presented a draft proposal for the extension of the legislative body’s term by more than two years, citing security conditions that do not allow holding parliamentary elections scheduled in November.
The proposed extension of Parliament’s term, which expires on Nov. 20, won renewed support Tuesday from former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, in the event a new president could not be elected to succeed former President Michel Sleiman, whose six-year tenure ended on May 25.
The moves to extend Parliament’s term came as lawmakers failed Tuesday for the 10th time in four months to elect a new president over a lack of quorum, raising fears of a prolonged vacancy in the country’s top Christian post.
Hariri renewed his call for priority to be given to the presidential election, but he aid that if the need arose, he would support the extension of Parliament’s term in order to avoid a total collapse of institutions, similar to what happened in Iraq.
“Concerning my position on the issue of parliamentary and presidential election, everyone knows that I am for holding the presidential election first, or else there will be no parliamentary elections,” Hariri said during a meeting with a delegation from the Economic Committees at his Beirut Downtown residence. “We do not want to reach Iraq’s scenario, where at one time there was no president, Parliament speaker or government, which led to a total collapse of the country.
“If we reach a stage at which we feel we are duty-bound to extend Parliament’s term, I will support the extension, even if it is my last choice.”
Hariri, who returned to Lebanon last week after more than three years in self-exile abroad for security reasons, said he had discussed the extension of Parliament’s mandate during his meeting with Speaker Nabih Berri Sunday.
“Even he [Berri] does not want the extension of Parliament’s term, nor do we as the Future Movement,” he added.
Hariri said Monday he backed the extension of Parliament’s term if the presidential election could not be held.
Siniora, head of the parliamentary Future bloc, echoed Hariri’s view. He said that the reasons that led to last year’s extension of Parliament’s mandate for 17 months still existed.
“We believe that priority should be given to the election of a president and holding parliamentary elections. But if this proved to be unattainable now, we might resort to this method [extension of Parliament’s term], even though we do not like it. But we have to be realistic,” Siniora told reporters in Parliament.
For his part, Berri reiterated his rejection of a new extension of Parliament’s term. “Who will guarantee that the extension of Parliament’s term will lead to the election of a new president? We will remain in the same circle,” Berri was quoted by visitors as saying.
“If we proceed with the extension, what are the guarantees that it will lead to the election of a president, especially given that [last year’s] extension has led to the obstruction of Parliament’s role and legislation?” he added.
Berri, according to visitors, said the rejection of bids to extend Parliament’s mandate should be used as “a card of pressure” to accelerate the election of a president.
He added that objection to the extension draft law by even one minister was enough to scuttle it. “Even if the parliamentary majority agreed to the extension, I will oppose it,” Berri said.
Asked about the results of his meeting with Hariri, Berri said: “We have agreed on the priority to the election of a president and reactivation of institutions, that is, Parliament and the Cabinet. Parliament does not meet, nor does the Cabinet work as it should.”
Berri’s remarks came hours after Fattoush said he had presented a draft proposal to Parliament’s Secretariat General for the extension of the legislative body’s mandate for two years and seven months, arguing that the move was aimed at protecting civil peace.
“We are going through extraordinary [security] circumstances ... I have presented an eight-page security supplement containing security matters, what happened and what might happen,” Fattoush told a news conference in Parliament.
“Statements issued by officials and all security reports justify not holding elections,” he added.
Fattoush, the lawmaker behind last year’s proposal to extend Parliament’s mandate for 17 months, said the new extension plan was aimed at rescuing the Lebanese people and institutions. “We all realize that civil peace is threatened,” he said.
Only 60 lawmakers, mainly from the March 14 coalition, Berri’s bloc and MP Walid Jumblatt’s bloc showed up, well below the two-thirds quorum of 86 MPS required to convene the session, which cause Berri to postpone the session until Sept. 2.
MPs from Michel Aoun’s Change and Reform bloc, Hezbollah and its March 8 allies have thwarted a quorum by boycotting the sessions, demanding a deal beforehand with their March 14 rivals on a consensus candidate.
Aoun’s bloc, which opposed last year’s extension of Parliament’s term, slammed a proposal for a new extension, saying it placed Lebanon’s democracy in jeopardy.
“It is not acceptable for a Parliament with an extended mandate, which the Constitutional Council challenged, to elect a president for six years,” MP Ibrahim Kanaan told reporters after the bloc’s weekly meeting chaired by Aoun.
“We believe that the extension is dangerous and serves a blow to the principle of the rotation of power and the legitimacy of constitutional institutions.
“Extending the mandate also jeopardizes democracy and the institutions, as well as Lebanon’s image and credibility abroad.”