BEIRUT: MP Walid Jumblatt’s bloc backs a controversial second extension of Parliament’s term in order to spare the country from what, given the absence of a president, would be a total power vacuum, according to a lawmaker from the group. Speaking during an interview with The Daily Star at his office in Parliament, Alaeddine Terro said the stubbornness demonstrated by the March 8 and March 14 groups had foiled Jumblatt’s efforts to end the presidential deadlock.
“We don’t want extension for the sake of extension. But we believe that extension is necessary to prevent a vacuum in Parliament and other institutions,” Terro said.
The Chouf lawmaker said that the current security and political situation was even worse than in May 2013, when Parliament first extended its term by 17 months. And, he added, Lebanon actually had a president back then.
“If we hold elections, the government will resign and we will have a paralyzed Parliament and a vacant presidency,” Terro said, referring to the constitutional obligation for the Cabinet to resign once a new Parliament is elected.
“We will be dragging the country into a total power vacuum.
“We had hoped that we could elect a president today and that parliamentary elections could be held on time, so a new government is formed and the transition of power takes place through the ballot box. But the current circumstances do not favor this.
“All the political groups want extension but are not saying it.”
However, he said none of the political factions had so far spoken about how long the extension should be. “Some are saying that Parliament’s term should be extended until a president is elected. That is, when a president is elected, Parliament’s term expires.”
Terro said that efforts by Jumblatt, who heads the Progressive Socialist Party, to break the presidential deadlock had so far hit a dead end.
“He is facing intransigence from every camp as they stick to their presidential candidates,” Terro said. “Neither the March 8 nor March 14 candidates have a two-thirds majority in Parliament that allows them to be elected to the presidency.
“That’s why we are calling for a consensus [to be reached] on a new president who is able to hold dialogue with all political parties and distance the country from Syria’s turmoil.”
Jumblatt backs MP Henri Helou, from his bloc, for the presidency.
In a bid to bring an end to the presidential crisis, Jumblatt has paid visits over the past few months to politicians from across the spectrum, including Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun, Kataeb Party leader Amine Gemayel, head of the Marada Movement MP Sleiman Frangieh, and Amal Movement chief and Speaker Nabih Berri.
Terro said that Jumblatt’s meetings were also aimed at protecting Lebanon’s stability.
“We achieved a breakthrough, manifested in the holding of a Parliament session,” Terro said, in reference to a legislative session that convened last week after more than four months of parliamentary stagnation.
Terro said that this positive development had raised hopes that an agreement could be reached over a new president.
Terro, who hails from the Chouf district of Iqlim al-Kharroub, said that he was not worried about the rise of extremist groups in his area, which is host to around 60,000 Syrian refugees.
Commenting on the possibility of having sleeper cells from ISIS and the Nusra Front in the Syrian refugee camps in Iqlim al-Kharroub, Terro said: “I will neither say yes nor no ... So far, we haven’t seen any signs in the district indicating that there are sleeper cells inside Syrian refugee camps.
“So far, we haven’t seen political or religious groups formed by these Syrian refugees, although all of them are devout Muslims. But this does not mean that they belong to any of the groups you mentioned [ISIS and the Nusra Front].”
Terro said that first and foremost, it was the responsibility of municipalities to keep a record of Syrian refugees in their areas and keep an eye on the camps, although of course security services also had a big part to play in keeping residents of all nationalities safe.
On the subject of the hostage situation in Arsal’s outskirts, Terro said he believed the government was doing what it could to win the freedom of the at least 21 soldiers and policemen who have been held by militants from ISIS and the Nusra Front since the battle for Arsal that took place in early August.
He said that the families of the captives should allow the Cabinet to do what it needed to do to resolve the situation.
“These issues take time because they involve negotiations with enemies. They [the families] have to give the government a chance to follow up on the matter,” he said.
Terro said he had no updates about ongoing Qatari efforts to secure the release of the men.
Health Minister Wael Abu Faour, who is in contact with the families on behalf of the PSP, was Wednesday able to convince them to reopen the vital Dahr al-Baidar highway that connects Beirut and Mount Lebanon with the Bekaa Valley, after they blocked it for around two weeks in a bid to pressure the government to expedite negotiations.
The families have now moved their protest site to Riad al-Solh Square in Downtown Beirut, right by the Grand Serail and Parliament.
Terro also said it was not clear whether a much-awaited Saudi-Iranian dialogue, which would likely have an immensely positive impact on Lebanon’s political crisis, was in the offing.
“No one can help the other at this time. Let us help ourselves and engage in dialogue in order to come up with solutions that protect the country,” he said.