BEIRUT: Hundreds of protesters took to the bustling streets of Beirut on Thursday evening chanting “We will kick you out” in opposition to a second extension of Parliament’s term.
With their picket signs and banners, the sea of demonstrators converged at the gates of the Ministry of Interior and then marched to Riad El-Solh Square. Many of them came in vans and buses from the South and the Bekaa to express their frustration with Parliament.
The protest was organized by a myriad of activists and organizations as part of the Civil Movement for Accountability (CMFA), in addition to student associations and other independent groups.
As the expiry date of Parliament’s term draws near, an active civil society campaign against the proposed extension has been gaining ground.
“The politicians must understand that this will not pass so easily, that we will not sit idly by and watch them extend their mandate again,” Samer Abdallah, program manager at the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections (LADE), told The Daily Star.
“We will call them out as the outlaws that they are and protest in the streets until there is a Parliament that truly upholds the law and the Constitution.”
The movement has organized several sit-ins and initiatives over the last few months, culminating in Thursday’s protest, which saw the largest number of participants yet.
Signs and slogans accused the Parliament of corruption and failure, demanding that the MPs step down immediately at the end of their term.
“You don’t have to go home, but you need to get out of Parliament,” one of the signs read.
“We are your government, we are your people,” shouted one young man, carried on the shoulders of another activist.
People parked on the side of the road and came out onto their balconies to watch the protesters blasting the words “No to the extension” through their megaphones.
If Parliament extends its term, it will be the second time in two years, after elections were postponed for 17 months in May 2013.
The legislature’s current mandate is set to expire in November. Prospects that elections will be held on time appear to be bleak, however, especially since Parliament has failed to muster a quorum over ten consecutive times in order to elect a president.
Also playing a major role in the movement is Men Ajel Al-Joumhouria, an independent political group that works towards spreading democratic values and the respect of constitutional institutions.
“They’ve basically left us with nothing in this country and now they want to impose themselves in Parliament without even letting us vote for them,” Marwan Maalouf, one of the group’s founders, told The Daily Star.
Maalouf reaffirmed Abdallah’s concerns, adding that the extension is also a breach of the international conventions that Lebanon has signed.
“We are working on a complaint to send to the United Nations,” he said, “and trying to get as many MPs who are against the extension to sign a pledge that they will not vote for it.
Parliament has only convened a handful of times in the past year, with several Christian and March 14 lawmakers boycotting legislative sessions in protest of the presidential vacuum, while Hezbollah and March 8 MPs are boycotting the electoral sessions.
This political deadlock gripping the legislature has left it unable to tackle pressing issues such as the ongoing battle over a new salary scale for public-sector workers.
Various MPs and political parties have cited different reasons behind the proposed extension, namely the security conditions, the presidential void, and the MPs’ inability to reach a consensus on a new electoral law.
Abdallah believes these are invalid excuses used to deceive people into thinking an extension is necessary, and the protesters all echoed his sentiments. Many held signs that read “Don’t make us choose between democracy and security."
“I think it’s ridiculous for them to attribute their failure to the security situation,” student activist Poliana Geha told The Daily Star. Geha is president of the American University of Beirut Secular club, which is collaborating with the CMFA.
“It’s the same worn-out alibi they used over a year and a half ago and they’ve done nothing about it since then.”
Maalouf stressed that Parliement’s failure to agree on an electoral law does not justify an extension of its term. “They were originally elected based on an existing law, and they can hold elections again based on this law, at least for now.”
“We already consider the Parliament an illegal one due to last year’s extension,” he continued, “so we would prefer not to have them elect the president anyway.”
Using the hashtag #NoToExtension, The CMFA has launched a social media campaign that gained popular support and included the participation of noted Lebanese celebrities such as musician Ghassan Rahbani and actress Nadine El Rassi.
“We know the battle will be very long,” Abdallah told The Daily Star, “and we will continue to do everything in our power to raise our voices.”
The march came to an end with a speech by Abdallah addressed to the MPs, which incited thunderous cheering and clapping from the crowds.
“We are here today to tell you that the extension of your term is an occupation [...] and that we will not back down until elections are held and the sovereignty of the Lebanese people is rightfully returned.”