BEIRUT — The Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) leader Gebran Bassil said in a televised interview Tuesday night that he supports the idea of finding "a consensus president," but that he is not a presidential candidate himself.
Bassil added that the responsibility to elect a new president is on Parliament, amid Lebanon's unprecedented double executive vacancy. The term of President Michel Aoun officially ended on Oct. 31, leaving behind a caretaker cabinet and no presidential successor.
"The reliance is on Parliament ... first through the election of a president and second through production," Bassil said Tuesday evening, without offering clarification.
In his final speech Sunday, the former president called on caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati to “recuse himself,” after Aoun attempted to dissolve the current government in a letter to Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri. Mikati denied the legal basis of the letter, claiming that his government "will continue to carry out all its constitutional duties.”
According to experts, Aoun's latest move has no legal basis. Still, Berri summoned the country's MPs to a session on Thursday.
"If there was seriousness, the discussion of the president's letter would have taken place on Monday, not Thursday," said Bassil. "We will have something to say [about this] in the session."
Bassil added that his party "did not consult with Hezbollah on the issue of signing a decree deeming the government resigned."
According to Bassil, the FPM "consulted with Hezbollah in depth about our position on the government, and an agreement was reached between both parties and Mikati that this government would not hold meetings, given its caretaker capacity, but they may be creating certain issues to force meetings."
Four parliamentary sessions devoted to the election of a new president have failed due to a lack of political consensus. No candidate achieved the two-thirds majority needed in the first round of voting to be elected president. The legislature has repeatedly lost quorum before the initiation of the second round of voting.
Bassil also stated that Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, "presented a strategic idea that they have confidence in me and Sleiman Frangieh ... [but] lack of support for Frangieh is well known, and I call for agreement on a third candidate."
Lebanon entered the presidential election period on Sept. 1, but Berri waited until Sept. 29 to call the first electoral session. Faced with a camp united behind Hezbollah, the opposition remains drowned in its differences, accentuated by the schism within the Forces of Change bloc.
Maritime border agreement with Israel
Bassil, who is sanctioned by the US on charges of corruption, told Reuters that he played a behind-the-scenes role in US-brokered talks to delineate Lebanon's maritime boundary with Israel by liaising with Hezbollah. The agreement between both countries, officially signed Oct. 27, was hailed by all three countries as a historic achievement, which marked a diplomatic departure from decades of war and hostility as well as opening the door to offshore energy exploration.
The FPM leader said Tuesday that he "neither den[ies] nor confirm[s]" meeting Amos Hochstein in the last stage of the negotiations.
"The Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Elias Bou Saab, who is from the Free Patriotic Movement was meeting with him, so what is the difference between us?" Bassil asked.
As part of this maritime deal with Israel, Lebanon has given up its claim to Line 29, which would allow it to claim an additional 1,430 square kilometers and part of the Karish field, which is known to be rich in hydrocarbons.
In exchange, Lebanon obtained the area delimited by Line 23 and all exploitation rights of the still-unexplored Qana field.
Bassil also said on Tuesday that, during the indirect negotiations with Israel, "we have always relied on two threats: diplomatically through the issue of Line 29, and militarily through the unarmed drones and the role of Hezbollah."