Lebanon's political deadlock deepened on Wednesday, with parliament voting once again to delay elections and announcing it would extend its mandate until 2017.
Lebanon’s parliament voted Wednesday to extend its mandate until 2017, postponing elections again amid political stalemate and insecurity tied to the conflict in neighbouring Syria.
The decision came the day after Al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate threatened to carry out new attacks in Lebanon against the Shiite Hezbollah movement which is fighting in Syria to bolster President Bashar al-Assad.
“The parliament voted by 95 votes out of 97 members present to extend its mandate until June 20, 2017,” a parliamentary source told AFP.
Only two lawmakers voted against the extension, but 31 boycotted the session altogether in protest over the controversial decision.
A few dozen people gathered outside parliament to protest the decision, pelting the cars of arriving lawmakers with tomatoes and eggs.
“It’s unacceptable,” Paul Abi Rashed, an environmental activist, told AFP.
“We’ve raised our children on the idea of democracy that we inherited from our grandparents, and now no one cares. Even the politicians themselves aren’t convinced about the reasons for this extension.”
– Deepening security fears, deadlock –
Parliamentary elections were originally scheduled for the middle of 2013, but MPs approved a 17-month extension of their mandate on May 31, 2013.
However, the political stalemate and security concerns that motivated last year’s extension have only deepened in the intervening period.
The country has been without a president since Michel Sleiman’s term ended on May 25 because lawmakers have failed to agree on a successor.
And the war in neighbouring Syria, which has raised existing tensions between Lebanon’s Shiite and Sunni residents, has spilled over with increasing regularity.
The decision to extend parliament’s mandate divided the country’s two main political blocs, but those voting in favour cited both the deadlock over the presidency and the security situation.
“We were in favour 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, told 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.”
– Nusra chief threatens Lebanon –
Lebanon suffered a 15-year civil war that ended in 1990 and has been shaken by the Syrian conflict.
The powerful Hezbollah movement has dispatched fighters to bolster Assad’s regime against a Sunni-dominated uprising that began in March 2011.
In Lebanon, most Shiites support Assad’s government, while most Sunnis sympathise with the uprising.
Hezbollah’s role in Syria has drawn the ire of extremist groups, who have regularly targeted the movement’s strongholds in Lebanon.
On Tuesday evening, the head of Al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate Al-Nusra Front threatened the group anew in an audio recording posted online.
“Our brothers in Qalamun are hiding plenty of surprises,” said Abu Mohamed al-Jolani, referring to a mountainous region that runs along the Syria-Lebanon border.
“The real battle in Lebanon has yet to begin,” he added, saying Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah would “regret what he has done to Sunnis in Syria”.
In addition to bomb attacks against Hezbollah, jihadist groups like Al-Nusra and the Islamic State group have battled Lebanese troops and the Shiite movement along the border.
In August, fighters from the two jihadist groups briefly overran the Lebanese border town of Arsal.
They are still holding 27 Lebanese police and soldiers they took hostage during the clashes. Three other soldiers have already been executed.