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Lebanon News

Activists campaign against Parliament extension

Protesters rallying against the extension of the Parliament term, throw tomatoes at a poster bearing the pictures of MPs near the Parliament in Beirut, Friday, May 31, 2013. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: The clock is ticking until Parliament’s term expires, and Lebanon’s vigilant civil society is adamant that they will not back down until elections to choose new MPs take place.

Numerous activists, youth associations and organizations that are part of the Civil Movement for Accountability (CMFA) are opposed to extending the Parliament’s term for a second time. Independent groups, too, have been playing an important role.

“We have reached a point where the extension would have far-reaching consequences,” said Elias Abou Mrad, a coordinator at the CMFA. “The lack of accountability by politicians toward the people is a major problem.”

If politicians are so confident about their popularity among the masses, he said, then there shouldn’t be any reason for preventing elections from taking place.

“Our main demand is for the Parliament to hold elections,” said Samer Abdallah, program manager at the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections, which is collaborating with the CMFA.

Activists said that the current Parliament had lost the people’s trust.

“The authorities are incapable of undertaking their full constitutional duties,” Abdallah said. He said he believed that some politicians intended to damage democracy in Lebanon.

“After last year’s extension our stance toward Parliament’s [decision] was soft because we were being realistic,” he said, emphasizing that this would not be the case this year.

If Parliament extends its mandate it will be the second time in a two years. Set originally for June 2013, parliamentary elections were delayed for 17 months in May of last year. Parliament’s current term will expire in November.

However, there are doubts that elections will take place on time, especially as Parliament has failed on several occasions to elect a president, due to lack of quorum.

The presidential post is still vacant, with no successor to fill the post left empty by former President Michel Sleiman, whose six-year term ended on May 25.

“We aim for elections by the people to take place, that’s the basis for accountability,” Abou Mrad said.

On May 31 of last year, the CMFA threw tomatoes at the vehicles of lawmakers, in what was called the “Tomato Revolution.”

This year, the same group sent MPs tomato boxes with sticker reading “No to extension.”

“We will intensify our actions with every additional move they make,” Abou Mrad said.

The movement has organized numerous sit-ins along Riad al-Solh Street to protest a possible extension.

“We are trying to gather different activists and in the upcoming stages there will be more sit-ins,” Abdallah said. “We want to mobilize Lebanese society against this extension; people should know how dangerous this step would be.”

Men Ajel Al-Joumhouria is a group of politically aware young people who aim to fight corruption and spread democratic values.

“Our politicians have reached the point of scorning their own citizens,” said Imad Bazzi, one of the group’s founders.

The group, according to Bazzi, was among the first to protest against the extension last year.

“When the first extension took place we made many videos, posters and graffiti art,” he said.

The group still resorts to similar activities to raise awareness.

“First of all we are working in the field by informing people about the excuses MPs are using for the extension,”Bazzi said. “We will also escalate our actions with confrontation.”

He said that unless the nation was facing security threats and Lebanon was in a state of emergency, elections should be held.

“Second of all, we visit MPs and make them sign contracts stating that they will not agree on any project that allows for Parliament’s extension,” Bazzi said. Some lawmakers have signed the contract, but others have refused.

“[We also have] an international campaign. We will file a compliant with the United Nations, human rights organizations and other bodies,” he added.

For Bazzi, the latter step was important because he believes Lebanese politicians care about their international reputations.

Social media has played an important role in informing people about the possible extension with the hashtagي#NoToExtension currently trending.

“We should all cooperate, especially when it comes to elections, because it’s the only means of democracy we have left,” said one of the administrators of the Stop Cultural Terrorism in Lebanon Facebook page.

The page has been outspoken about freedom of expression and gay rights and has been a major critic of censorship and corruption.

“We have been supporting the Men Ajel Al-Joumhouria group because their cause is righteous and they’re not politicized,” said the administrator, who wished to remain anonymous. “We are sharing their posts and helping them in the field.”

“When lawmakers do whatever they want without anyone monitoring them ... this irritates people and makes them wonder how to remove them from power,” Abou Mrad said.

“In reality people are tired because of the difficulties in their daily lives,” said Abdallah, echoing Abou Mrad’s comments.

He said citizens were steadily becoming more aware of the actions of their leaders and of their rights.

“There’s awareness when it comes to confronting people with the reality about our lawmakers,” Abou Mrad said. “The real effort is in convincing them to continue mobilizing against them.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 21, 2014, on page 3.

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