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March 8 teaming up to foil Parliament extension bid

File - Lebanese parliament speaker Nabih Berri casts his vote to elect the new Lebanese president in the parliament building in downtown Beirut April 23, 2014. (REUTERS/Joseph Eid/Pool)

BEIRUT: The Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition is teaming up in a bid to foil attempts to extend Parliament’s mandate, a move that is gaining momentum, amid fears of a prolonged presidential vacuum and security concerns about holding parliamentary elections scheduled in November.

Speaker Nabih Berri reiterated Wednesday his opposition to a second extension of Parliament’s term, a stance that won quick support from Hezbollah.

Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun, whose parliamentary Change and Reform bloc opposed last year’s extension of Parliament’s term, vowed Wednesday to vote against a new extension.

“The Free Patriotic Movement will vote against the extension of Parliament’s term,” MP Salim Salhab from Aoun’s bloc told the Voice of Lebanon radio station.

Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea also came out opposing a proposal to extend Parliament’s mandate for more than two years.

“We are against the extension. We will not vote for the draft proposal to extend Parliament’s term. Instead, we will vote for holding parliamentary elections on time,” Geagea said in an interview with MTV station Wednesday night. He stressed that holding the parliamentary elections was the “best solution.”

Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri left for the Saudi port city of Jeddah Wednesday to discuss how to implement a $1 billion Saudi grant to bolster the capabilities of the Lebanese Army and security forces in their battle against terrorism.

Hariri will hold talks with Saudi officials related to ongoing efforts to put Saudi King Abdullah’s grant to the Lebanese Army and security forces into effect, a statement from Hariri’s office said.

Two days before he returned to Lebanon on Aug. 8 after more than three years in self-exile abroad over security concerns, Hariri announced from his residence in Jeddah a $1 billion grant offered by the Saudi king to help Lebanon’s Army and security forces to fight terrorism and extremism following fierce fighting earlier this month pitting the Lebanese Army against Islamist militants in and around the Bekaa town of Arsal.

In rejecting a new extension, Berri asked what was the use of renewing the mandate of a paralyzed Parliament that does not legislate.“I refuse to extend Parliament’s term again and I am not maneuvering as some may think,” Berri was quoted as saying by MPs during his weekly meeting with a number of lawmakers at his Ain al-Tineh residence.

“What is the benefit of extending the term of a paralyzed Parliament that does not legislate and does not assume its role fully?” he asked. “The extended Parliament proved to be ineffective.”

Hezbollah MPs who attended the meeting in Ain al-Tineh said the party had not taken a final decision on the extension of Parliament’s term, but said they supported Berri’s stance in rejecting the extension.

“All of us are for the election of a new president. So far, there has been no official stance on the extension, but we support Speaker Berri’s stance,” Hezbollah MP Nawar Saheli told reporters in Ain al-Tineh.

Berri’s stance flies in the face of the prevailing political attitude, which views a second extension of Parliament’s term as nearly inevitable.

The Lebanese Constitution requires elections to be held by Nov. 16, 2014.

The polls, originally set for June 2013, were delayed by Parliament last May. MPs, citing the security situation and the inability of rival parties to agree on a new electoral law, extended Parliament’s term by 17 months.

Zahle MP Nicolas Fattoush Tuesday presented to Parliament’s Secretariat General a proposal to extend the legislature’s tenure by more than two years, citing security conditions that do not allow holding elections in November.

Hariri and former premier Fouad Siniora said they supported a new extension of Parliament’s term in the event a new president could not be elected.

MP Walid Jumblatt was also reported to be supporting a limited extension of Parliament’s mandate.

Parliament 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.

Aoun’s bloc slammed a proposal for a new extension, saying it placed Lebanon’s democracy in jeopardy and dealt a blow to the principle of the rotation of power.

Geagea, the March 14 coalition-backed candidate for the presidency, expected the 3-month-old presidential stalemate to drag on “until further notice.” He blamed Aoun’s bloc and Hezbollah for the deadlock, saying the two sides held the key to electing a president.

“We can simply go to Parliament to elect a president. But there are two parliamentary blocs that are obstructing the presidential election,” Geagea told MTV, in a clear reference to lawmakers from Aoun’s and Hezbollah’s blocs who have thwarted a quorum by boycotting Parliament sessions, demanding a deal beforehand with their March 14 rivals on a consensus candidate.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 14, 2014, on page 1.

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Summary

The Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition is teaming up in a bid to foil attempts to extend Parliament's mandate, a move that is gaining momentum, amid fears of a prolonged presidential vacuum and security concerns about holding parliamentary elections scheduled in November.

Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun, whose parliamentary Change and Reform bloc opposed last year's extension of Parliament's term, vowed Wednesday to vote against a new extension.

Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea also came out opposing a proposal to extend Parliament's mandate for more than two years.

Hezbollah MPs who attended the meeting in Ain al-Tineh said the party had not taken a final decision on the extension of Parliament's term, but said they supported Berri's stance in rejecting the extension.

Berri's stance flies in the face of the prevailing political attitude, which views a second extension of Parliament's term as nearly inevitable.

Hariri and former premier Fouad Siniora said they supported a new extension of Parliament's term in the event a new president could not be elected.

MP Walid Jumblatt was also reported to be supporting a limited extension of Parliament's mandate.


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