Lebanon News

‘Extraordinary circumstances’ to extend Parliament’s term remain

File - Minister Nicolas Fattoush arrives at the Parliament in Beirut, Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2013. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: MP Nicholas Fattoush said Wednesday that the “extraordinary circumstances” which prompted Parliament to extend its term in 2013 have become worse, a reality which made him propose another extension to salvage Lebanon from a “deadly void” in institutions.

Fattoush’s draft law, which he presented to Parliament Tuesday, calls for extending the legislature’s term for two years and seven months, citing security reasons that do not allow the timely holding of parliamentary elections, scheduled for November.

“The issue is not whether we can extend Parliament’s term another time or not. Did the extraordinary circumstances change? I believe that the current circumstances are even more difficult than those of 2013,” Fattoush told The Daily Star in a telephone interview.

“If someone can say that he can guarantee holding parliamentary elections [safely], then I will immediately withdraw the draft law,” Fattoush explained.

A holder of a doctorate in law, Fattoush, 71, used to lecture in France and at Lebanon’s Universite Saint Joseph. He taught constitutional law, administrative law and political theory.

The Zahle lawmaker presented a draft law to extend Parliament’s term for two years in 2013, citing security reasons. MPs, however, extended their term for only 17 months in May of that year.

Fattoush said that the security situation was now worse. Earlier this month, militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria and the Nusra Front took over the northeastern town of Arsal. They withdrew after five days of bloody clashes with the Army which claimed the lives of 19 soldiers, 16 residents of Arsal and dozens of militants. The militants also kidnapped 19 soldiers and around 20 members of the Internal Security Forces.

Syrian rebels often fire rockets on villages in the Bekaa Valley, where Hezbollah enjoys wide support, in retaliation for the party’s military involvement in Syria alongside the regime of President Bashar Assad.

Several suicide bombings have also rocked areas associated with Hezbollah over the past year and the war in neighboring Syria has fueled sporadic clashes between supporters and opponents of Assad in Tripoli.

In his draft law, Fattoush said it was almost impossible to hold parliamentary elections amid such extraordinary circumstances and “conspiracies coming from outside which threaten the entity [of Lebanon] and coexistence.”

The draft law states that the current security situation prevented candidates from organizing election campaigns and made candidates and voters unable to directly communicate in most Lebanese districts, particularly in cities. “This is an essential issue which torpedoes the entire electoral process.”

The proposal adds that given the dangerous situation, the Army and ISF could not ensure that the polls could take place safely across Lebanon in one day as stipulated by the current election law.

Another factor that could prevent the holding of elections is the fact that teachers and state employees who usually work at voting centers are often holding strikes over a long-awaited salary increase for the public sector.

Former prime ministers Saad Hariri and Fouad Siniora voiced their backing for an extension in the event that a president was still not elected by the time the date of parliamentary elections arrived.

However, Speaker Nabih Berri, Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement so far oppose the step.

“What is the use of extending the life of a Parliament that does not legislate and does not assume its role fully,” Berri was quoted by his visitors as saying Wednesday. He was referring to paralysis which marked Parliament’s activity in recent months.

Fattoush said those who oppose the extension proposal should present a constitutional counter-argument.

“Let them tell me for example that this constitutional point [I present in the draft law] is baseless. I have attached eight pages to the draft law which detail a series of security incidents the country has witnessed.”

“This is a draft law for the sake of the country. I am surprised with this opposition to the extension. Look at the situation in the country and at the reasons the draft law cites for extension. They are backed by the most prominent constitutional experts in the country,” Fattoush said. “Shall we drag the country to the unknown? There is currently a presidential void and if Parliament’s term expires [without holding elections], we will fall into a deadly void.”

Fattoush said that any lawmaker who did not favor extension could vote against it. “If the majority does not want extension, I will succumb to their will. After all, we are all in one boat.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 14, 2014, on page 4.




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