BEIRUT — The head of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) Gebran Bassil acknowledged on Sunday that he was "compelled to hold a dialogue" about the presidential election in Lebanon, which has been stalled for months. Bassil's remarks come as the country remains without a head of state since the end FPM founder Michel Aoun's term as president on Oct. 31.
Bassil's call also comes at a time when he is more isolated than ever on the political scene. His party's relationship with political ally Hezbollah has deteriorated, especially since the latter made official its support for Marada Movement leader Sleiman Frangieh in the presidential election.
In a long speech delivered at the eighth national congress of the FPM on Sunday, the party leader also targeted caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati and his decision to postpone daylight savings time and criticized Banque Du Liban (BDL) chief Riad Salameh, as well as Hezbollah.
Dialogue or violence
"Today, the questions are existential and the choices determine the destiny — that of the republic and its sustainability. The collapse is accelerating and forces us to find solutions, not just describe the problems," Bassil said.
"We have the power to propose, but we alone do not have the solution. Any proposal can be individual, but the solution is collective," he continued, before emphasizing his call for dialogue. "Lebanon, its entity, its state, its model and its message are in danger; we are all in danger if we continue to confront each other and refuse dialogue as a way to save ourselves," he said.
“There is no parliamentary majority for one side in Lebanon, and there will never be one. We are compelled to hold a dialogue and must agree, we must stop betraying each other because consensus is the only solution," the FPM leader told his supporters.
"The alternative to dialogue is violence. And even violence is solved by dialogue," he said, before seeming to address other political actors in Lebanon, without naming them: "Let's build through dialogue a new economic model, let's agree on the modernization of the system and the protection of Lebanon's sovereignty in the current upheavals of the region and the world."
During the popular uprising in October 2019, Bassil was one of the most criticized political figures on the street, with his detractors accusing him of corruption. Meanwhile, the US has scanctioned Bassil on corruption grounds. Bassil defends himself against these allegations.
'They want a president who turns back the clock'
Regarding the presidential election, the FPM leader said, "I am a logical and natural candidate, as the head of the FPM which is at the head of the largest parliamentary group," adding, "I did not run for office so as not to be the cause of the vacuum." Bassil also mentioned "a campaign launched against us" by the rest of the political forces who "made failed bets on the division and crumbling of our party.”
"The ruling class has tried for six years to block the strong president [Aoun, who left office on Oct. 31] and to gather people against him. They did everything to bring him down and did not succeed," the son-in-law of the former head of state claimed. "Today they want to bring back the weak president, who they would control," he said, without specifying to whom he was referring.
Bassil also commented ironically on the postponement of daylight saving time — a decision that has generator controversy since its announcement by caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati on Thursday.
“They want a president who sets back the country's time, rather than moving towards the time of reform. I say to them: the time has come, even if you bring it backwards!" he said.
"We want a president who is a product of agreement, clearly supported in all circumstances. Not like what happened with Michel Aoun. It's time to get out of the refusal and go towards the agreement," he repeated, insisting repeatedly on his call for dialogue.
'They want the Resistance first and the country second; we want the opposite'
Addressing his relations with Hezbollah, which have recently deteriorated, the FPM leader said that Hassan Nasrallah's party has "repeatedly told" him that would be impossible for them to propose a name or accept the candidacy of someone he would not support.
"When I asked them if they could gather 65 votes for Sleiman Frangieh without us, they were offended,” Bassil said.
"They want the Resistance first and then the state that protects it. We want the opposite, first a state and then a Resistance that protects it. For us, these two demands are achievable if we agree on a president," theFPM leader said.
Bassil also called for "the best relations with the countries of the world and those of the Arab world, especially the Gulf," but he added, "we refuse everything that threatens our existence. We do not want the orientation towards the East to be a vexation of the West, nor do we want the orientation towards the West to be an aggression toward the East."
Nasrallah regularly calls for Lebanon to turn to the East, especially to China, to get out of its ongoing crisis.
Mikati, Salameh and a call to the street
As usual, Bassil peppered his speech with inflammatory criticism of Mikati, referring to the controversy caused by the caretaker prime minister's recent remark that Christians comprise just 19.5 percent of the population of Lebanon.
The BDL governor Riad Salameh was also in receipt of the FPM leader's criticism.
"Let those who say we are corrupt publish their accounts as I did myself. Let them make a law of transparency on banking secrecy, let them prosecute Riad Salameh," he said. "The crimes of the governor are many, and his circulars openly steal depositors' savings every day," he continued, in reference to the ongoing economic crisis and currency collapse in the country.
Salameh is being prosecuted in Lebanon and is implicated in corruption probes in a least five European countries. The BDL chief, in office since 1993, regularly defends himself against these accusations.
Addressing his supporters, Bassil concluded his speech by saying: "Get ready to take to the streets." However, he did not elaborate on when or how this demonstration should take place.
BEIRUT — The head of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) Gebran Bassil acknowledged on Sunday that he was "compelled to hold a dialogue" about the presidential election in Lebanon, which has been stalled for months. Bassil's remarks come as the country remains without a head of state since the end FPM founder Michel Aoun's term as president on Oct. 31. Bassil's call also comes at a time when he...