Lebanon’s frenetic but relatively functional democracy suffered what many here describe as an ominous setback as lawmakers decided Wednesday to postpone parliamentary elections for the second time in less than two years. Amid fears of rising instability linked to the civil war in next-door Syria, Lebanon’s 128-member legislative body voted overwhelmingly to extend its mandate for an additional two years and seven months. The elections had already been pushed back from June 2013 because of similar security concerns. Recent attacks by militants linked to the Syrian conflict have shaken the fragile sectarian balance in Lebanon, where a 15-year civil war ended in 1990. Rights groups and activists warned that the vote’s postponement could sow further instability in one of the few democracies in the Middle East, a region beset by chaos and dominated by monarchies and authoritarian leaders.
“This is unprecedented for Lebanon,” said Nadim Houry, director of the Beirut office of Human Rights Watch. “There have been major upheavals throughout Lebanon’s history, and yet we’ve still managed to hold elections during worse times than this.” The decision, he said, reinforced an “oligarchical” system in Lebanon in which “a handful of men are increasingly deciding on how things are run.”
Lebanese lawmakers have been at odds over formulating a new electoral law as well as selecting a new president, a position that traditionally has been held by a Maronite Christian and has been vacant for five months.