BEIRUT: The Lebanese Forces party’s parliamentary bloc has threatened to boycott a legislative session on Tuesday aimed at extending the mandate of municipalities and delaying elections.
On Monday, party chief Samir Geagea said: “If the mandate of the municipal councils is extended, we will challenge this extension.”
Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, as well as the Free Patriotic Movement and its allies, were expected to take part in the session that could see approval given for an extension to the mandate of municipal councils to avoid the costs and logistics of holding elections.
Lebanon’s Ministry of Interior had slated municipal elections for May and Christian opposition parties and Forces of Change MPs are insisting they go ahead, as well as presidential elections, claiming the parties in power are stalling for time because they fear losing their grip on the municipalities.
The elections were initially postponed for 12 months because they coincided with the parliamentary elections.
Geagea pointed out that the money needed to fund the municipal elections could be secured through special drawing rights similar to those used by the government to meet electricity, medicine, passport, and other consumer payments.
“The opposition axis and the Free Patriotic Movement are disrupting the presidential elections, paralyzing the country and institutions, preventing the establishment of the actual state, and working to disrupt municipal elections,” he told a press conference.
Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi and Beirut’s Metropolitan Greek Orthodox Archbishop Elias Aoude launched a scathing attack on deputies seeking to extend the mandate of municipalities.
In a joint statement, they said: “If they can ensure the quorum for holding a parliamentary session to extend the mandate of municipal councils, what is preventing them from securing the necessary quorum for holding a parliamentary session to elect a president of the republic?”
On Sunday, Al-Rahi said: “You are underestimating the people and the constitution and renewing expired terms after their mandate ended.
“What an absurd and shameful reason not to have enough money to cover the costs of the election.
“Why did you not secure the necessary funds to conduct these elections? You are not worthy of the responsibility that has been assigned to you.”
Aoudi said: “The authorities in the country have become a cause of death for the country and the people, due to their corruption in all facilities and sectors.
“Parliament has completed a quarter of its term, and it is still confused and indecisive; it did not fulfil its simplest duties and primarily, it did not elect a president.
“Parliament’s role in monitoring and accountability is almost absent, and in legislation, it has not yet succeeded in approving the reform laws that are necessary to stop the deterioration and revive the country,” he added.
MP Ghada Ayoub said: “Those who are capable of holding a session to extend the mandate can hold a session to fund municipal elections.
“To those who claim they are careful not to create a vacuum in local authorities, including mayors and municipalities, and those who do not want to put pressure on the government to pay from the SDR (special drawing rights), why not approve a legislative proposal to open an exceptional line of credit?”
Tuesday morning’s parliamentary session will be followed in the afternoon by a Cabinet meeting to discuss the means of securing funds for municipal elections.
However, if an extension of the mandate is approved the Cabinet’s agenda will be limited to approving increases in the salaries and allowances of employees in the public sector.
The Cabinet was also reportedly due to consider submitting a proposal to legislate for the issuance of new denominations of 500,000 and 1 million Lebanese pound banknotes. The highest-value banknote currently in circulation is 100,000 pounds.
Retired Lebanese army staff and public sector workers were planning to gather in Beirut’s Riad Al-Solh square, near government headquarters, to demand that salaries be returned to their real purchasing value.
They claim that tens of thousands of retired soldiers and civilians were now living below the poverty line.