BEIRUT — Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) leader Gebran Bassil stated Tuesday that the dialogue between his party and Hezbollah regarding the presidential election is still in its early stages.
He hinted that, as a result of this dialogue, his party could "facilitate" the election of Hezbollah's favored candidate in exchange for a prior commitment regarding administrative and financial decentralization.
"What we are proposing, with Hezbollah, is not a retreat or concession, nor a reversal, but rather political work," Bassil stated in a live-streamed press conference. "We have presented ideas to [Hezbollah] and are awaiting their response."
The relationship between Hezbollah and the FPM has been strained in recent months, especially following the end of former president Michel Aoun's term in office in October 2022. Lebanon has been without a president since then.
After initially supporting the presidential candidacy of former minister Jihad Azour, Bassil reopened channels of dialogue with Hezbollah after months of strained relations due to disagreements over Hezbollah's support for Marada Movement leader Sleiman Frangieh.
"Two approaches are possible," said Bassil on Tuesday. "Either we discuss without conditions and reach an agreement on a consensus candidate, or we facilitate the choice of Hezbollah's candidate, Sleiman Frangieh, in exchange for demands of a national nature."
He strongly advocated for the establishment of a trust fund, the adoption of a presidential program, and above all, a prior commitment to administrative and "financial" decentralization.
"We have discussed something that is in the interest of all Lebanese, not just the FPM or the Christians. We call for adding these laws to the agenda of the upcoming mandate," Bassil said. "We can only elect a president through consensus. We rely on an inter-Lebanese dialogue."
Once again, Bassil also criticized the actions of caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati for the cabinet meeting held earlier in the day in Dimane, the summer residence of Maronite Patriarch Bechara al-Rai.
Mikati, accompanied by several ministers, met with Rai and emphasized the need to elect a president. Bassil called the meeting a "theatrical performance."
The FPM has repeatedly criticized Mikati for calling cabinet meetings in the absence of a president— a position traditionally reserved for a Maronite. Rai had previously made similar criticisms, but Mikati said Tuesday's meeting was meant to signal "support for the government."