BEIRUT — Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) leader Gebran Bassil said Monday evening he rejected the call for early parliamentary elections, an option put forward by Parliament's Deputy Speaker Elias Bou Saab after a meeting with Speaker Nabih Berri to end the country's political stalemate.
Lebanon has been without a president for nearly eight months and has had no fully functional cabinet since May 2022 elections.
"The call for early parliamentary elections, which Deputy Speaker Elias Bou Saab and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri discussed, is rejected," Gebran Bassil said in an interview on local channel LBCI Monday evening. "If this proposal is a message from Nabih Berri, I say to him that our MPs were elected thanks to our votes," he added.
Though a member of the FPM parliamentary bloc, Bou Saab doesn't always align with Bassil. During last week's session to attempt a presidential election, Bou Saab went against FPM's voting instructions (in favor of IMF official Jihad Azour) by supporting the Amal-Hezbollah's presidential candidate, Sleiman Frangieh.
During the Monday interview, Bassil said that by raising the specter of early elections, Berri and Bou Saab could be sending a message to him after supporting Azour.
Gebran Bassil's party could also risk losing a handful of MPs who had benefited from the Hezbollah vote in the last legislative elections.
Joseph Aoun 'doomed to fail'
Turning to the issue of the presidential election, Bassil reiterated that his party would take "the necessary measures in accordance with [the FPM's] internal regulations" if his MPs failed to vote for Jihad Azour as instructed.
He also again criticized army commander Joseph Aoun, an unofficial presidential candidate. If there is an international agreement around army commander-in-chief Joseph Aoun, and "if some people bow to this agreement, I will not accept that FPM would be part of a presidential project doomed to fail," Bassil said during the interview.
"In the absence of an external sponsor, we need an internal agreement," said the FPM leader. "Neither the Moumanaa camp [pro-Iranian axis in Lebanon] nor the confrontation camp, nor our party are capable of electing a president on their own ... The last parliamentary session proved that whoever said his candidate has more than 65 votes is wrong," he added.
In the last week's electoral session, Jihad Azour, former minister and a senior official at the IMF, obtained 59 votes against Sleiman Frangieh who received 51 votes. Berri has not set a date for another session.
Links with Hezbollah and the LF
Finally, Gebran Bassil returned to the subject of his relationship with Hezbollah, which has been under strain since the end of former president Michel Aoun's term last year.
"I don't think that what has been built up over 17 years with Hezbollah has been wiped out in a month," he said. "The Resistance has protected Lebanon. This was reflected in the stability of the South. But today I'm betting on Hezbollah's sanity, which should put Lebanon's interests first," he continued.
The FPM leader also noted that "the crisis of confidence with Lebanese Forces (LF) leader Samir Geagea dates back 60 years, not six."
"We don't trust the LF today, but it's our responsibility to put emotions aside. Inter-Christian understanding is a priority.," Bassil said.
He also proposed "launching a mechanism for internal understanding around the presidential elections, to close the door to outside interference." According to him, "holding on to a single name or supporting a candidate who will win out over the others won't work. We need to find another way."
"The former leader of the Progressive Socialist Party "Walid Joumblatt and I must do complementary work and not compete by playing the role of liaison" between the different parties, he concluded.