Lebanese MPs disregard citizens' right to vote by extending their mandate

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Demonstrators set up tents near Martyr’s Square in downtown Beirut to protest the extension of parliament's mandate; the writing at the bottom of the photo reads, "No to extension." November 5, 2014. Al-Akhbar English/Rashad Sisemore

Published Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Updated at 6:49 pm (GMT+2): Lebanon’s members of the parliament on Wednesday defied protesters and extended their own terms in office by more than two and a half years, a move that contravenes Lebanon’s international human rights obligations.

Ninety-five out of 97 parliamentarians present voted for the extension bill, Lebanon's National News Agency (NNA) said, ignoring dozens of angry demonstrators and civil society representatives that staged a sit-in near Martyr’s Square in downtown Beirut to denounce the extension.

Only two lawmakers, including MP Hagop Pakradounian, voted against the extension, while The Change and Reform bloc and The Phalange Party MPs boycotted the session altogether in protest over the controversial decision.

The 128 parliament seats, currently occupied by the same MPs since 2009, were up for grabs in June 2013, but failure to agree on a new electoral law led to a postponement of the election until November 20, 2014.

Instead of holding elections, the Future Movement bloc presented a draft proposal for the extension of the legislative body’s term under the pretext of “maintaining security" and the same parliament that previously extended its own term ended up extending it once again on Wednesday.

Downtown Beirut, where the parliament is located, was locked down by security forces for the vote as protesters hurled tomatoes and eggs at police.

According to NNA, a number of members of the Civil Society Movement for Accountability (CMFA) – a coalition of NGOs and student associations – hurled raw tomatoes at one of the lawmakers on his way to attend Wednesday’s legislative session.

Activist group CMFA and other civil associations have been campaigning against the second extension through a series of demonstrations as well as a social media campaign.

In August, the CMFA announced in a statement the birth of a civil and democratic resistance against the MPs whom they labeled as “occupiers.”

For CMFA and different civil society groups involved, the inherent problem is that the current MPs are making decisions on their own without the voice of the greater Lebanese public.

"It is another blow to democracy in Lebanon. Lebanon has a long history of democracy and we are seeing, unfortunately, a political class that is going against the tide of history," said Makram Ouaiss, one of the protest organizers.

Humans Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report on Tuesday that the extension contravenes Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Lebanon ratified in 1972, that stipulates that "every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity … to vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors.”

Political factions supporting the bill claim that the current security situation is not conducive to holding elections, but according to HRW's report, for the extension to be legal two fundamental conditions must be met:

“The situation must amount to a public emergency which threatens the life of the nation, and the State party must have officially proclaimed a state of emergency. The latter requirement is essential for the maintenance of the principles of legality and rule of law at times when they are most needed.”

Since Lebanon has not declared a state of emergency, "the canceling of elections and extending of parliament’s term would therefore contravene Lebanon’s human rights obligations under ICCPR," the report concluded.

Meanwhile, the Lebanese patriarch of the Maronite church, Beshara al-Rai, Wednesday slammed the extension as “illegal and unconstitutional."

“The extension is against the constitution and is not legal,” Rai said. "We pray for the election of a new president as soon as possible."

Angelina Eichhorst, head of the EU delegation in Lebanon, said on Twitter that Wednesday was "a sad day in Lebanon's constitutional history."

Lebanese FM slams extension

Foreign Minister and Change and Reform bloc MP Gebran Bassil described the session as a “holdup of Parliament.”

"Holding elections could have been a solution to the presidential election and not vice versa," he said in a news conference.

On October 9, Parliament failed for the 13th time since May to choose a successor to former President Michel Sleiman due to a lack of quorum.

“When they respect Christians’ choices, we can face ISIS and the takfiri ideology,” Bassil added. "We understand being slaughtered by ISIS, but we don’t understand being politically slaughtered by our political partner in the homeland."

Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun said on Tuesday that the Change and Reform bloc rejects the parliamentary extension, asserting that “there is nothing called vacuum in the Lebanese state. The alternative to extension is holding the election on time.”

“The alternative to extension is elections,” Aoun said. “If the elections do not take place on November 20, the parliament will be dissolved but the government, according to Article 69 of the Lebanese Constitution, stays and would not be considered resigned.”

Aoun also said that Article 74 of the Constitution “stipulates that in case the presidential seat is vacant and the parliament is dissolved, elections must immediately take place.”

MPs give excuses

The decision to extend parliament's mandate divided the country's two main political blocs, but those voting in favor cited both the deadlock over the presidency and the security situation.

"We were in favor of elections and not extending the mandate but the security situation, as everyone agrees, doesn't allow the holding of parliamentary elections in Lebanon," parliamentary member Bassam al-Shab told AFP.

Another MP, Setrida Geagea, said during a press conference that failing to extend parliament's mandate risked leaving the country with neither a president nor a parliament.

"We want parliamentary elections to take place, but the blockage of the presidential elections, which should take place before parliamentary elections, led us to the choice of extending parliament," she said.

"Not extending would lead us to a void and further disintegration of the constitutional order amid the sensitive phase that the region is going through now."

Moreover, Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) leader Walid Jumblatt said on Twitter that "sometimes some decisions are unpopular. But risking the void would lead the country to chaos. This [is] why renewing the mandate was a must."

The extension of parliament’s mandate gained the support of the Future Movement MPs , including former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who said the extension is essential “to prevent the collapse of the Lebanese system and entering the unknown.”

On Monday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said that Hezbollah is against a parliamentary vacuum.

“If you want elections, we are ready. And if you want an extension, we are also ready, but what we are not at all ready for is an institutional void,” Nasrallah said, before adding that the “normal” thing to do is to hold elections.

(Al-Akhbar, Reuters, AFP)

Comments

Well done citizens of Lebanon !
Obviously, it has been made painfully clear to the Lebanese political arena, by the people of that nation, that they are less than impressed with their performance.
Being the true cads that they are, the 97 members of parliament - illegally, voted for an extension bill - so as to prolong the misery & the agony of the people of Lebanon.
The writing is on the wall, however, for these unscrupulous political fiends & they know it.
But I suppose a tidy little sum can be amassed & squirreled away in 2 1/2 years.
Their reaction is one of several possibilities ....
a) they were caught unawares
b) they did not realize
c) they believed themselves secure
d) they were to busy in the pursuit of self gratification / rewards to notice
e) they spent big & burned bridges, fearing the consequences of their frivolous escapade, they need time to come to grips with ...............
We could go on - but hey.

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