Beirut – Lebanese President Michel Aoun suspended on Wednesday the country’s parliament in an attempt to prevent it from extending its own term for a third time.
Aoun resorted to Article 59 of the constitution that grants the president the power to suspend parliament for one month. This was the first time that a president has utilized this power since the adoption of the Taif Accord in 1989.
Tensions in Lebanon had reached unprecedented levels prior to a parliament session that was scheduled for Thursday during which lawmakers were set on extending its term. The political parties are divided mainly between Muslims who support the extension in order to avoid parliamentary vacuum and Christians who oppose it and are instead counting on an agreement on a new parliamentary electoral law.
The Lebanese parliament had twice extended its own term due to the political parties’ failure to agree on a new electoral law. The last parliamentary elections were held in 2009.
Aoun had held talks prior to the suspension with a number of political powers including Prime Minister Saad Hariri in order to ease the tensions.
He said in an address to the Lebanese people after suspending parliament: “I vowed during my swearing in ceremony that I would correct representation in the country based on constitutionality. The government pledged in its ministerial statement to adopt a new electoral law that respects correct representation.”
“I had previously warned of the repercussions of extending the parliament’s term … that is why I have decided to postpone the parliament session based on Article 59 of the constitution,” he declared.
International law professor Antoine Sfeir told Asharq Al-Awsat that Aoun now has a number of constitutional options to deal with Lebanon’s current crisis, “the majority of these options however do not solve the problem, but simply postpone it.”
After the one-month suspension is over, parliament will be able to convene and adopt the law to extend its term, he said.
Once that happens, the law can be returned to parliament or appealed before the constitutional court, Sfeir explained.
Prior to the suspension of parliament, political and security tensions were high after the Christian parties, led by the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and Lebanese Forces, had called for a general strike and demonstration to prevent the extension. They were later going to be joined by civil society activists in the rally that was aimed at preventing lawmakers from reaching the parliament building in downtown Beirut.
Sources from Aoun’s FPM told Asharq Al-Awsat that meetings between the movement and “Hezbollah” delegations “had all failed in reaching an agreement.”
They said that the party is insisting on adopting the proportional representation electoral law, while the FPM is demanding that the new law include a phase of “sectarian rehabilitation to ensure that Christian candidates are elected by Christian voters themselves.”
“The situation that has been reached between the FPM and ‘Hezbollah’ will definitely impact their alliance. The two sides have lost trust in each other,” they revealed.