BEIRUT — Free Patriotic Movement head Gebran Bassil said in an interview published Friday night that “being the next president of Lebanon is not part of [his] plan” but that Hezbollah cannot “force” him to vote for his rival, the head of the Marada Movement Sleiman Frangieh.
“I am not a candidate unless I announce my candidacy ... which I haven’t,” said Bassil told the Lebanese daily Annahar. The deadline for Lebanon’s Parliament to elect the next president is Oct. 31, when current President Michel Aoun’s term ends.
Observers see Bassil as a “natural” candidate for the presidency, as the head of an important Christian political party.
He said he would not elect Frangieh, whom some observers see as the only figure so far to have presented himself as a presidential contender, albeit without officially announcing he is running for the job.
On Thursday, Frangieh said in an interview with local channel MTV that he “is not Hezbollah's candidate” for the presidential elections despite him being close to Hezbollah and Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian regime, as he aims to present himself as a presidential candidate who has consensus.
No Frem, no Moawad, no Geagea
“I don’t believe that Frangieh can guide the country out of the crisis it is currently in,” Bassil said, adding that the Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah “knows he can’t force me to do something I'm not convinced of.”
He continued by saying that the first priority for the upcoming president should be “fixing Lebanon’s foreign relations.”
Bassil also refused to support the election of Maronite MPs Neemat Frem (independent/Kesrouan) or Michel Moawad (independent/Zgharta), or for his archenemy Samir Geagea, head of the Lebanese Forces.
He also noted that the election of Army Commander Joseph Aoun, whose name has circulated as a potential candidate, “requires an amendment of the Constitution.”
Constitutionally, an army commander must resign from their position six months before the election takes place to be officially considered a candidate.
President Michel Aoun’s term expires on Oct. 31. Hezbollah has declared itself in favor of a “consensus” candidate in order to elect a president within the constitutional deadline. For their part, representatives of the US, France and Saudi Arabia met on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, issuing a joint statement urging Lebanon to hold the presidential election within the constitutional deadline.
Regarding the formation of the government, Bassil pointed out in the Annahar interview that “a cabinet will be formed because no one wants to go to the unknown,” conceding, however, that the possibility of a government vacuum still exists. Lebanon has yet to form a new cabinet since parliamentary elections in May.
Hezbollah ‘ready for a war it does not want’
Regarding Hezbollah’s weapons, Bassil said he believes that the arms should be used in the face of Israel and the Islamic State only.
“Hezbollah is more than ready for a war it does not want,” he added.
Bassil refuted accusations that he had any corrupt role in Lebanon’s electricity sector. Instead, he said, he made mistakes in the past and had never been involved in “any corruption.” He added he “worked hard to provide electricity for the Lebanese,” but others did not “allow” him to do so.