BEIRUT — Free Patriotic Movement leader Gebran Bassil said in a speech Saturday night that political parties counting on a change in the balance of power to deliver their candidate to the presidency are "mistaken." His comments come as the country remains frozen in a presidential election impasse since Michel Aoun's mandate ended Oct 31, 2022.
"Those who are waiting for a change in the balance of power to bring their candidate to the head of the state are mistaken, such as a blow to Hezbollah or Iran, the fall of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, or a Syrian-Saudi or Syrian-Iranian agreement," Bassil said at a dinner in Zahle during his tour of the Bekaa. He remarked that "the success of a president supported by all Lebanese is not guaranteed, let alone [one] elected against the will of half of the Lebanese."
Bassil argued that a "state is built through consensus, not by relying on foreign powers to strengthen [one] position against others, nor through internal quarrels."
He renewed the call for consensus, the election of a president, and the formation of a ruling class based on a clear vision that determines political, economic, and financial choices, as outlined in the FPM's presidential roadmap, currently being sketched by the party brass and MPs.
The FPM is in discussions with its ally Hezbollah regarding the presidential election, where they have put forward two demands: administrative decentralization and the establishment of a trust fund to manage state assets. Though the FPM support the presidential candidacy of Jihad Azour, a senior official at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), alongside opposition groups and the Lebanese Forces, the Bassil's party has stated in recent months that it is willing to support any candidate — including Marada leader Sleiman Frangieh (the FPM's rival, whose candidacy is supported by Hezbollah and Amal) — if Hezbollah and its allies commit to implementing their two demands.
Since September 2022, a dozen parliamentary sessions dedicated to electing a new head of state have failed due to a lack of agreement among Lebanon's political groupings. Hezbollah and the opposition have not been able to garner enough votes for the election of either of their respective candidates.
'Imposing' the repatriation of Syrian refugees
In his speech Bassil stated that it is "our" responsibility to expose those conspiring against our existence, both from within and outside the country. Some party that has guaranteed not to shut Lebanon's land border, he said, is ultimately closing the maritime border and remaining silent about the reception of migrants.
"They have already done so with the naturalization decree in 1994 and the wave of migration in 2011, and they continue to do so today. We are not being unjust to them when we say they are the most dangerous conspirators against the country," he thundered.
In 1994, during the terms of then-President Elias Hrawi and then-Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, tens of thousands of foreigners (150,000-200,000 according to various sources), most Muslims, including many Palestinians, acquired Lebanese citizenship.
"It is our responsibility to confront the danger migration poses to our existence," Bassil concluded, emphasizing the need for "the government to discuss with Syria and the rest of the world to impose the repatriation [of Syrians] rather than requesting aid."
Lebanon has in recent weeks experienced a new migration crisis along its border with Syria. According to official estimates, the country hosts two million Syrian refugees, of which only 830,000 are registered with the United Nations. Lebanese officials have recently visited Damascus to discuss the repatriation of these war-displaced individuals.