BEIRUT — On Tuesday evening, on the eve of parliament's 12th presidential electoral session, Free Patriotic Movement leader, MP Gebran Bassil, gave a speech in which he spoke of the deteriorating relations between his party and Hezbollah, while justifying his support for the candidacy of Jihad Azour.
Relations between the FPM and Hezbollah, which sealed a political alliance in 2006, are at an all-time low.
The FPM is strongly criticized by Hezbollah for its refusal to support the candidacy of Sleiman Frangieh, Hezbollah and Amal's preferred candidate. Bassil recently announced that his party would vote in favor of the senior IMF official, former minister Jihad Azour.
Frangieh is expected to win the votes of Hezbollah, Amal and their allies during Wednesday's session, while a good proportion of the deputies opposed to his candidacy are expected to vote for Jihad Azour, who according to various tallies, will likely win more votes than Frangieh. Despite this, many predict that Azour will not obtain the sufficient number of votes to be elected.
Azour, who made his candidacy official on Monday, is the subject of an agreement between several opposition parties, including the Lebanese Forces, the Kataeb, as well as the FPM, the PSP and several independent MPs.
Here are the main points of Gebran Bassil's speech:
- “Our disagreement with Hezbollah was about state-building. We tried to develop the understanding, but we did not receive the response we needed. The disagreement deepened when it came to national partnership. We still agree on the Resistance and defense strategy. That's why the agreement hasn't fallen apart, but it's not doing well. That's why we have said that the agreement is unstable.”
- “Today, choices are limited. We said that the blank vote is no longer tenable. The choice is between Jihad Azour and Sleiman Frangieh. We may not get the best. But we can get the best we can.”
- "We have decided to have a good relationship with the opposition forces without establishing alliances because we agree with them on many sovereign and reformist issues but not on the Resistance. We don't want to take sides with them in politics against Hezbollah."
- "We agreed to support Jihad Azour's candidacy because he is not a provocative or defiant candidate. (....) He was among the names that the FPM accepted, but he was not our favorite candidate."
- "We call on the Shiite tandem [Hezbollah-Amal] to stop threatening and interfering in the internal affairs of the FPM by trying to coax and influence party deputies. This is unethical.”
- "Anyone who does not respect the FPM's decision does not respect the party's unity, strength or prestige. Whether he likes it or not, he will have weakened the party. This will require accountability in accordance with our internal system. But it won't happen, because I'm counting on the commitment and ethics of the FPM's members."
Gebran Bassil has given clear instructions to his party's deputies to vote in favor of Jihad Azour, but according to some observers, some FPM deputies may not respect the party leader's directives.
- "He who has miscalculated cannot drag the country and the Shiites into a confessional and national conflict (...). He cannot accuse us of isolating an essential component of the country which cannot, in any case, be isolated."
-”We don't want to repeat the experience of former president Michel Aoun (...) as long as the political system is in power. It's a decision we made at the FPM a long time ago, not to undertake another experiment that fails. We therefore went in search of a president in agreement with the other components of Parliament, based on a list of candidates for the presidency on which we agreed, but which we did not name ourselves."
- “The Shiite tandem insisted on its candidate and refused all other candidates. The Lebanese Forces insisted on three candidates that we refused for a long time before they endorsed a candidate that we accepted."
- “We are open to dialogue before and after the session, and know that there can be no president without dialogue (...) But let no one believe that our support for one candidate against theirs will result in the election of a third candidate without our agreement."