BEIRUT — Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) leader Gebran Bassil on Tuesday accused Lebanese Army chief Joseph Aoun of concocting "a military coup," amid growing concerns by the party that Aoun could impose himself as a third option to fill Lebanon's months-long presidential vacuum.
“Any attempt to appoint [the new members of the military council] in a manner contrary to the Constitution, and without going through the Defense Minister [Maurice Slim, who is close to the FPM], will be considered a real military coup d'état, in the face of which we will not stand idly by," Bassil said at a press conference on Tuesday.
These remarks come as the possibility of a total leadership vacuum looms large over the military establishment, as Gen. Aoun is scheduled to retire in January 2024. The army chief of staff, who is supposed to take over from him, has still not been appointed, though Aoun asserted in recent meetings with caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri that only his chief of staff should succeed him if no successor is named.
But Lebanon has been without a president for more than eight months, leaving questions over whether certain top government positions can be appointed — a task that usually requires the head of state.
Bassil has asserted that army appointments should indeed be made even amid Lebanon's ongoing presidential vacuum.
"If in six months' time a new president is not elected, the highest-ranking officer should take over, as was the case within General Security," Bassil said, referring to the appointment of Elias Baissari, acting director of General Security at the end of Abbas Ibrahim's term of office last March.
The FPM leader also renewed his attacks against Mikati and Berri on the subject of appointments to top leadership posts, especially Berri's overtures in recent days at naming a new Banque du Liban (BDL) chief as the central bank's current governor Riad Salameh is set to end his 30-year term this month.
Aoun said in his press conference Tuesday that he was in favor of BDL's first deputy governor Wassim Mansouri (who is close to Nabih Berri) succeeding Salameh.
"This solution is legal, but implies responsibilities that certain figures are unwilling to assume," he Aoun added, in a criticism of Berri, who he says "wants to avoid Shiites taking over BDL and failing to resolve the crisis."
Implicit call for Frangieh to step down
Gebran Bassil also spoke of the presidential election deadlock, renewing his attacks on Marada Movement leader Sleiman Frangieh, who is the favored candidate of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement.
Frangieh garnered 51 votes in the Parliament's most recent failed electoral session on June 14, while Jihad Azour — the candidate favored by the FPM and parliamentary opposition — garnered 59.
"The June 14 session proved that the candidate of the Shiite tandem [Amal-Hezbollah] did not come close to the score that would allow him to stay in the race,” Bassil said on Tuesday, though he acknowledged that Azour's score would not allow him to win the race either.
The deadlock comes amid more than eight months without a head of state, after previous president Michel Aoun finished his term of office Oct. 31 with no successor in place.
Bassil added Tuesday that he welcomed recent French efforts to break the deadlock, "insofar as these efforts are aimed at helping the Lebanese come to an agreement, and not at imposing a president on them."
French envoy Jean-Yves Le Drian is set to return to Beirut in the coming days as part of Paris' efforts to resolve the presidential election.