By Laila Bassam
BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanon's parliament is expected to vote on Thursday to extend its own term until 2018 without an election, officials said, as activists called for protests to prevent what they said would be a blow to democracy.
Lebanese politics has long been dogged by sectarian divisions, with the Syrian war exacerbating party rivalries as lawmakers feud.
Parliament has already extended its mandate twice because lawmakers were unable to agree on an election law. It last did this in 2014, citing security concerns linked to the civil war in neighboring Syria.
"Short of any surprises, the extension will take place so that the country does not face a political vacuum," said a Lebanese official.
Security is expected to be tight in downtown Beirut, where parliament is located.
"We are urging Lebanese to hold protests and prevent MPs from meeting," said prominent activist Marwan Maalouf. "This is unconstitutional."
Critics accuse Lebanese politicians of using regional upheaval as an excuse to dodge elections.
"This is will be the third time they extend in four years," said activist Asaad Thebien. "This doesn't happen in any country in the world."
Lebanon's sectarian divisions have been complicated by the regional rivalry between Shi'ite Iran and Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia. The government struggles to make basic decisions and parliament is often paralyzed.
In October of 2016, parliament elected former army commander Michel Aoun as president, ending a 29-month vacuum in a political deal that secured victory for his Lebanese Shi'ite ally Hezbollah, Iran and Syria.
Lebanon's Al Akhbar newspaper urged Aoun to step in to prevent unrest when parliament meets on Thursday.
"Intervene to prevent an explosion," said the newspaper.
(Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Tom Heneghan)