Another extension for Lebanon's parliament

As parliament decides to again extend its term, Western diplomats are starting to disengage from the issue in the hope that a new solution will present itself.

al-monitor Police forces gather outside the parliament building in Downtown Beirut, after Lebanon's parliament extended its own mandate until 2017 on Wednesday, November 5, 2014.  Photo by REUTERS/Jamal Saidi.

Topics covered

west, united states, syria, parliament, lebanon, elections, diplomacy

Nov 7, 2014

“Does the silence of the diplomatic circles in Lebanon before the extension of the Lebanese parliament’s term indicate that security and political hell has broken loose after the spillover of the Syrian war into Lebanon?”

With the loud silence of the diplomatic delegations before the second extension of the parliament on Nov. 5, 2014, the question posed by a Lebanese diplomat during an interview sounds legitimate.

The Western diplomatic delegations in Lebanon did not give the parliament’s second extension the same importance as they did in 2013. At that time, Western diplomats might as well have won an Oscar for their countless statements about unguaranteed elections. Former US Ambassador to Lebanon Maura Connelly, British Ambassador Tom Fletcher, UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Derek Plumbly and Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighborhood Policy Štefan Füle, among others, all had something to say.

Perhaps former President Michel Suleiman and former Prime Minister Najib Mikati had blatantly “obeyed” the “instructions” of the West by signing the decree calling on electoral bodies to hold the elections.

The Western diplomatic delegations immediately linked the elections to security stability, especially to deterring the spillover of the Syrian war into Lebanon and protecting the “dissociation” policy.

It was also noteworthy that in 2013, the US believed that it was better to hold elections and vote according to the 1960 law amended in Doha in 2008 than to not vote at all.

Now, around a year and a half later, in the wake of the second parliamentary extension, it’s enough to observe the press statements of Western embassies, none of which objected to the extension before it happened, unlike the first extension. The Lebanese people did not witness a diplomatic buzz or visits warning political authorities against the dangers of extension, as it would negatively influence the foreign perspectives on the legitimacy of the constitutional institutions and would lend the impression that Lebanon was a delicate country. Besides, “holding the elections on time would definitely reduce the risks surrounding Lebanon.”

It is true that Western diplomats working in Lebanon, be they Europeans or Americans, refrained from commenting directly on the decision of the majority of political blocs to extend the parliament under the pretext that it is difficult to hold parliamentary elections for security or political reasons. However, there is no doubt that these diplomats discuss privately what they do not express publicly.

In this framework, diplomatic circles that are close to European diplomacy indicated that “Europeans are worried about yet another derogation of the Lebanese constitution, although the extension is constitutionally legal. But, the European and Western countries see it as a deviation from the correct functioning of the institutions and an impediment to the democratic process. They also consider it a discouraging sign regarding security because the procrastination of parliamentary elections in Lebanon has often foreshadowed imminent and huge security and political turmoil.

European circles also noted that Europeans can only express their concern and admitted that the Lebanese alone are responsible for solving the issue of maintaining the legitimacy of their constitutional institutions to avoid a political vacuum.

In the same context, political circles close to the Western embassies said that the silence of the West is a sign of its loss of interest in the Lebanese parliament itself because the West’s hopes are no longer hanging on the current political class. For this reason, diplomatic circles are watching from afar and dealing with the situation as it is. Moreover, Western diplomats’ rhetoric today clearly shows their deep-seated conviction that the political class in Lebanon has fallen, and they do not want to assume responsibility to avoid being blamed for wrecking the country and meddling in its internal affairs. Therefore, they would rather leave political decadence to take its toll, while waiting for a radical solution for Lebanon — one that reconsiders an updated structure in line with the new ones in progress in Middle Eastern countries.

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