Lebanon parliament votes for extension of its own mandate
BEIRUT - Lebanon's political deadlock deepened on Wednesday, with parliament voting once again to delay elections and announcing it would extend its mandate until 2017.
The decision comes amid a stalemate that has left the country without a president since May and security concerns tied to the conflict in neighbouring Syria.
"The parliament voted by 95 votes out of 97 members present to extend its mandate until June 20, 2017," a parliamentary source said.
Only two lawmakers voted against the extension, but 31 boycotted the session altogether in protest over the controversial decision.
Parliamentary elections were originally scheduled for the middle of 2013, but MPs voted on May 21 for a 17-month extension of their mandate.
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 the 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 said.
Another MP, Setrida Geagea, told a press conference that failing to extend parliament's mandate risked leaving the country with neither a president nor 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."
Protesters camping outside parliament and rights groups say the move denies citizens their democratic privileges.
Some demonstrators blocked roads leading to the parliament and threw tomatoes at lawmakers' cars. They were later held back by security forces.