BEIRUT — Head of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) Gebran Bassil stated Tuesday that his party has found only minor differences between their profile for the ideal next president and the profile set by other parties.
"There are few differences between our list and the ideas of others, and this is an important matter," Bassil said in a speech following the weekly meeting of the FPM parliamentary group. "Through the round of handing over the priority list, we opened the door to search for understanding on the next president," he added.
FPM has “toured all the parliamentary blocs to present its presidential priority list, except for the challenge bloc, which did not set a date for the meeting yet,” Bassil said in reference to the Lebanese Forces bloc, FPM's main political opponent.
Lebanese Forces (LF) leader Samir Geagea has called multiple times for the election of a president who would "challenge" the current majority formed by Hezbollah, Amal and the FPM.
Bassil warned that Lebanon is getting closer to a presidential vacancy and dialogue is needed to avoid that scenario. According to him, the solution is to form a government “in an agreement between the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister.”
He stated that the “constitution is clear: a government that lacks its powers cannot take over the powers of others.”
Without mentioning him by name, Bassil accused caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati of "robbing the constitution" by trying to grant his caretaker government — "which lost its representability and legitimacy" — the powers of the president.
"Those who want a challenger president take the country to sedition, as do those who want to impose a government that lost its prerogatives," Bassil said. “The powers of the president, in the event of a vacuum, are exercised by the Council of Ministers in session. Not the government, the prime minister, or any minister, and this is what we have practiced in the previous vacuum situation for two and a half years.”
Lebanon experienced a presidential vacancy between May 2014 — at the end of former President Michel Sleiman's term — and Oct. 2016, with the election of President Michel Aoun.
With the upcoming end of President Aoun's term on Oct. 31, talks for the formation of a new government have stalled. If no president is elected and Mikati's new government is not formed before then, it will be the first time Lebanon experiences a double vacancy in the executive branch.
In such a situation, points of view differ on the ability of a caretaker government to assume the powers of the president. FPM and Bassil insist this is not constitutionally possible. Earlier in October, Bassil said that it would be "a crazy act" if Mikati did not form a new government before the deadline.
Aoun met Mikati earlier on Tuesday, and the latter was expected to visit Baabda Palace again that evening.
Shortly after Bassil's speech, Mikati's press office denounced the FPM leader's "impulsive" words "in a delicate political time that needs cooperation from all ... not accusations and provocative positions."
New criticism of Salameh
In his speech, Bassil also criticized the circular issued by the Bank du Liban (BDL) governor Riad Salameh Sunday night, "in which some people earn millions of dollars while being protected by the judiciary and security ... [and FPM] to provide a cover for what the central governor is doing.”
In a statement, Salameh said that, as of Tuesday, BDL will stop buying dollars at the market rate from money transfer companies. It will, however, continue to sell Sayrafa rate, which stood at LL30,100 to the dollar as of Tuesday.
The governor said this will not affect the transactions of depositors (including those made through Circulars No. 151 and 158) or the payment of salaries of civil servants.
Contacted by L'Orient-Le Jour, a trader operating on the parallel market said this maneuver by Salameh served to bring the Sayrafa rate closer to the market rate ahead of a potentially politically turbulent week.