BEIRUT: Anti-Parliament protesters ended their two-day sit-in in Downtown Beirut Friday but vowed to continue demonstrating against the legislature’s extended mandate, which went into effect after the Constitutional Council failed to rule on petitions challenging the extension.
President Michel Sleiman, who opposes the extension, urged the legislature to draft a new electoral law that would allow the polls to take place as soon as possible. The 10-member Constitutional Council failed for a fourth time to convene to look into the challenges brought forward by Sleiman and Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun.
As on previous occasions, the two Shiite members and one Druze member of the 10-member body boycotted the session for a fourth consecutive time.
In late March, lawmakers voted overwhelmingly in favor of the measure of extending Parliament’s mandate by a period of 17 months. Parliament’s term expired Thursday.
The council’s head, Judge Issam Sleiman, issued a report on the handling of the petitions and how the body failed to reach a decision. Copies of the document were sent to Sleiman, Speaker Nabih Berri and caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati.
The report confirmed that Parliament’s 17-month extension “became legal,” by default, “as of today [Friday],” a judicial source told The Daily Star.
According to a statement from Baabda Palace, the president urged Parliament to immediately begin drafting a new electoral law “within a reasonable timeframe that allows for shortening the extension period, which would allow the elections to take place in a period that does not exceed a few months.”
Sleiman, according to the statement, is in consultations with caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati to work toward convening an extraordinary session of Parliament for this purpose.
Several hundred protesters, some of whom had camped out overnight, rallied once more against Parliament’s mandate extension. The extension triggered an angry protest Thursday evening, leading to skirmishes between activists and police.
Friday’s gathering was less antagonistic, although protesters succeeded in dismantling part of the barbed-wire barrier that security personnel had erected to seal off the street leading to Nijmeh Square, where the legislature is located.
When Internal Security Forces and other security personnel threatened to repel protesters once more, the crowd held up their hands and began shouting “Peacefully! Peacefully!”
Nizar Ghanem, one of the organizers, admitted that the turnout was lower than expected, but blamed this on the “hopelessness” felt by Lebanese toward the prospect of political change.
“They put up barbed wire downtown, which is a public space, while there are clashes happening in Sidon and Tripoli,” Ghanem complained.
The Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections, the leading organization behind the protest, vowed to continue its fight, calling on the public to attend another protest on June 28 at 6 p.m. in Downtown Beirut.
Speaking to the crowd, LADE’s President Adnan Melki listed the failures of what he referred to as “the former MPs,” including the seizure of public land, the lack of progress on the rights of women and workers, and the neglect of the environment.
“Over the past several years, the political class went too far in its corruption and its blind loyalty to regional and international interests,” Melki said.
“The Lebanese became fodder for sectarian battles while the authorities [ignored] every popular demand in an attempt to dilute these demands and buy time in order to sneak through an extension of Parliament’s mandate, a parliament which lost its legitimacy at midnight last night.”
Separately, the American ambassador to Lebanon, Maura Connelly, visited Aoun to discuss the political and security situation in Lebanon and the crisis in Syria.
According to a statement issued by the embassy, Connelly reiterated U.S. support for Lebanon, but appeared to issue a veiled warning to politicians, emphasizing that “the United States’ primary concern is the survival of Lebanon’s democratic institutions and processes and the rule of law.”
Connelly “noted that the key issue for any democracy is that leaders and officials are accountable to the people and respect and abide by the rule of law, which includes allowing its democratic institutions to work,” adding that: “The inability to do so undermines international confidence in Lebanon and will have ramifications beyond the political arena.” – Additional reporting by Youssef Diab