By Wassim Mroueh
Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi blasted politicians Wednesday for undermining the country’s political process, saying their behavior had made the extension of his term inevitable.
Caretaker Defense Minister Fayez Ghosn signed an administrative decision to extend the terms of Kahwagi and Lt. Gen. Walid Salman, the Army chief of staff, for two years.
“Our respect for democracy permits us to say: The fear of a vacuum in the chain of command makes it inevitable to take many decisions which wouldn’t have been taken if political life and its natural cycle had been running smoothly and if differences between political parties and currents hadn’t exacerbated and called off constitutional events,” Kahwagi said in the Order of the Day.“But what happened should motivate all sides to refrain from allowing political gravitations to determine the path and survival of constitutional institutions and should motivate them to not allow personal and political differences to devastate our constitutional values and the Taif agreement.”
Kahwagi pledged to respect the country’s Constitution and preserve its democracy, saying the Lebanese supported the Army and provided it with legitimacy. His address was issued to mark Army Day, which falls on Thursday and will be marked by a ceremony at the Military Academy in Fayyadieh, to be attended by senior politicians and state officials.
“The Lebanese celebrate with you [Thursday] and remember our martyrs who fell and are still falling to defend Lebanon. They stand by your side after you proved that the Army is one body, its decisions are one ... its legitimacy stems from people who granted it their confidence,” Kahwagi said.
Ghosn signed the decision as a last resort to avoid a power vacuum in the military after Parliament failed to convene three times last month to pass a draft law extending Kahwagi’s term for lack of quorum. Kahwagi was supposed to retire in September while Salman’s term was to expire this month.
The extension is backed by parties from both March 8 and March 14, except the Free Patriotic Movement, whose leader Michel Aoun said the move was unconstitutional. A former Army general, Aoun said he would challenge the extension before the Shura Council but some lawmakers have argued that only Maronite officers who are directly affected by the move would be eligible to lodge a complaint.
Ghosn, who discussed the security situation in the country with Kahwagi at the Defense Ministry, said in a statement that the extension didn’t imply that other Army officers were not competent enough to replace Kahwagi.
“This decision, which almost gained unanimous support [from rival political groups], demonstrates that political factions were aware of the dangerous situation we are witnessing and the pressing need to protect the military first and the country second,” Ghosn said.
He said that the abnormal political situation and the delicate security situation within and around Lebanon prompted politicians to take the necessary steps to prevent a power vacuum, which he described would have been “fatal.”
“Any vacuum will expose civil peace to danger and will negatively affect the unity of the military,” he said.
For his part, Speaker Nabih Berri said any step that strengthen’s the Army should be the product of consensus. “Every step that fortifies and helps strengthen the role of the military institution in preserving the county’s security and stability is needed and should receive full consensus,” Berri was quoted as saying by MPs who attended his weekly meeting with lawmakers at his Ain al-Tineh residence.
Additional reporting by Dana Khraiche