BEIRUT: Caretaker Minister of State Nicolas Fattoush presented Parliament with a draft law Wednesday to extend the legislature’s term, as rival parties negotiated the duration of the extension.
Fattoush requested that Parliament’s term be extended for two years, until June 20, 2015. According to Zahle MP Fattoush’s proposal, the extension of Parliament’s mandate is justified in order to avoid a political vacuum in the country, given that a caretaker government is currently managing state affairs.
Speaking to The Daily Star, Fattoush said a six-month extension, as requested by some parties, was impractical.
“Elections cannot be held in the middle of winter, given the logistical difficulties that prevent the polls from being held properly [during the winter season],” Fattoush said. “I made my proposal to prevent a war and to stop the ongoing battles in Lebanon.”
The current Parliament’s term expires on June 20. Rival parties have failed to agree on a new electoral law and most political factions oppose the current 1960 law.
A senior March 8 source told The Daily Star the extension of Parliament’s term was being discussed, adding that it was only opposed by Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun.
“The only one opposing extension is Aoun, because he believes extending Parliament’s mandate also entails extending the term of President Michel Sleiman, whom he opposes,” the source said. Sleiman’s term ends in May 2014.
The source said the March 8 parties supported Fattoush’s draft law, adding that the Future Movement backed an extension, but not one that would last for two years.
The source said holding polls under the 1960 law would be pointless as it would maintain the representational status quo of the current Parliament, since every bloc would maintain the same number of MPs.
He said it was impossible to hold elections on June 16 as scheduled, due to the lack of agreement on a new law and given the ongoing armed clashes between two rival neighborhoods in Tripoli. The source said a breakthrough should be achieved before the end of the month. FPM MPs said that although their group opposed the extension, it did not have the majority support needed to block the law extending the legislature’s term.
MPs from Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt’s bloc and the Tashnag Party support a two-year-extension.
Future MP Jean Ogassapian said his bloc was against the extension, unless it was made to prepare for elections under a new law.
“The extension will be acceptable only when a new law is passed by the Parliament,” he told The Daily Star. “The caretaker interior minister specifies the period of extension in that case and it should not exceed six months,” he said, adding that Speaker Nabih Berri should call for a session and put to vote all proposed poll laws.
But Berri said Wednesday there was still no agreement on a new electoral law for the upcoming polls. During his weekly meeting with MPs at his Ain al-Tineh residence in Beirut, Berri was quoted as saying: “There have been no new developments over the electoral law since the subcommittee wrapped up its meetings.”
The speaker also voiced concern during the meeting regarding the deteriorating security situation in the country.
Earlier, caretaker Health Minister Ali Hasan Khalil, Berri’s political adviser, discussed the subject of parliamentary elections with Sleiman at Baabda Palace.
MPs who requested to remain anonymous said Khalil’s visit to Sleiman was in line with efforts to ensure that the president would not challenge the extension proposal before the Constitutional Council.
Sleiman opposed any extension of Parliament’s term unless it aimed to make preparations for elections under a new law or the 1960 law.
Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said his party strongly opposed a two-year extension. “We are totally against extension for two years,” Geagea said. “Up until now, extension is only supported by Hezbollah, Amal and the Progressive Socialist Party,” he told a local television station. Geagea said he supported the Future Movement’s stance, which called for putting all electoral laws to a vote and extending Parliament’s term only to prepare for elections under a new law.