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Lebanese MPs to camp out in parliament till new president is elected

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BEIRUT — After Lebanon’s 11th unsuccessful session to elect a president final week, two unbiased lawmakers merely refused to go residence, staging a sit-in at parliament to spur their colleagues to motion because the nation slips additional into financial damage.

Parliamentarians Najat Saliba and Melhem Khalaf have been camped out within the parliamentary constructing within the capital Beirut since Jan. 19, sending an open name to different members of parliament to affix them, meet quorum and at last elect a brand new president.

“The one method we are able to begin making reforms, or make any try to cease the deterioration of the lira, and to make any try to get something within the nation, we want a cupboard,” Saliba advised The Washington Submit. “And the one method we are able to get a cupboard is by electing a president.”

She was talking by Zoom on Tuesday evening from the darkness of the curved parliament corridor, the place electrical energy is just accessible from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. “It’s pitch darkish,” mentioned Saliba, however they’re making do with projectors and battery-powered lamps.

“It’s not that dangerous,” she added. “I feel persons are struggling much more than us.”

Lebanese member of parliament Najat Saliba on Jan. 24 described the darkish room of her parliamentary sit-in. (Video: Joe Snell/The Washington Submit)

The nation’s electrical energy scarcity is certainly one of many concurrent calamities which have engulfed Lebanon since 2019, when tens of 1000’s of individuals stuffed the streets to protest a spiraling monetary disaster and the endemic corruption that has lengthy divided the nation into haves and have-nots — a divide that has solely grown within the years since.

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The Lebanese pound is in free-fall: Earlier than the disaster, it was pegged at 1,507 kilos to the greenback, and whereas the peg is technically nonetheless in place, individuals trade {dollars} at unstable black-market charges that may change day by day, even hourly. On Wednesday, the pound reached a brand new file low: 57,000 kilos to the greenback, already down 35 p.c since Jan. 1.

The decline of the pound has condemned a lot of the nation to poverty. It has additionally widened the gulf between those that receives a commission in {dollars} and those that receives a commission within the native foreign money — a baffling change to most Lebanese, who for many years had used each banknotes interchangeably.

Within the absence of official information from the federal government, whose final official census was in 1932, the World Meals Program estimates that 46 p.c of Lebanese households have bother assembly their fundamental meals wants.

Beirut was as soon as synonymous with wild celebration scenes and splendid accommodations; now, males, ladies and youngsters roam the streets begging for cash, meals, drugs and water.

“Now we have no energy to do something however watch the individuals endure and run after their day by day, human, fundamental rights,” Saliba mentioned. “With a vacuum like this, persons are left alone to fend for themselves. That is the worst disastrous state of affairs you possibly can ask for.”

“With a purpose to break the cycle of stalling, and to interrupt the cycle of not doing something, we determined to sit down within the authorities right here, within the parliament, and name for motion,” she continued.

Lebanese member of parliament Najat Saliba on Jan. 24 described why she staged a parliamentary sit-in. (Video: Joe Snell/The Washington Submit)

The time period of Lebanon’s earlier president, Michel Aoun, completed on the finish of October, and plenty of fear that the publish will stay vacant indefinitely.

Their fears usually are not unfounded: The final emptiness dragged on for 29 months, paralyzing the nation for greater than two years earlier than Aoun took workplace in October 2016. The presidency is reserved for a Maronite Christian, following a power-sharing deal that ended a bloody 15-year civil battle in 1990.

The present caretaker authorities has restricted powers, and with parliament in a state of election, Saliba defined, all legislative capabilities are on maintain. It’s a “ridiculous” state of affairs, she mentioned, that demanded determined measures.

“We might go and solid a white paper vote, and go away with out even ready to know the outcomes,” she mentioned. “So we have been like sitting there, witnessing an entire mockery of the system. This drove us actually loopy, and we began pondering what can be one of the simplest ways to push these individuals, to imagine the duties to the fullest, [to] take into consideration one of the simplest ways to elect the president, particularly as we’re witnessing the worst financial collapse.”

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The sit-in has led to some progress, Saliba mentioned. Thirty-one of their fellow parliamentarians have visited to point out assist, some dropping by frequently to speak, others sleeping over in rotations. “However they’re not sufficient. Thirty-one individuals can not elect a president.”

Within the first spherical of voting, a profitable candidate wants 86 votes, or a two-thirds majority of the 128 sitting MPs. To date, no candidate has acquired greater than 44 votes. Opposing political events have refused to succeed in throughout the aisle.

“We can not wait,” Saliba mentioned, including that constitutionally, parliamentarians can collect at any second to vote, with out ready for a name by the speaker of the parliament. However the majority of MPs have steered away from the corridor.

Lebanese member of parliament Najat Saliba mentioned on Jan. 24 the federal government can not wait lengthy earlier than electing a brand new president. (Video: Joe Snell/The Washington Submit)

Saliba mentioned she and her like-minded colleagues are in it for the lengthy haul, and can proceed sleeping on the few couches scattered across the constructing till the impasse is damaged. Sporting a coat inside within the absence of heating, Saliba’s face lit up when requested if meals supply was accessible.

“There’s a lot meals,” she laughed. In quintessentially Lebanese vogue, the lawmakers’ constituents have been supporting them with meals, fruits, dessert and occasional. “Folks maintain sending us meals,” she mentioned, shaking her silver hair in disbelief.



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