Outgoing Minister of Social Affairs Hector Hajjar criticized on Saturday the Maronite Patriarch Bechara al-Rai's push to extend General Joseph Aoun's term as Lebanese Army Commander-in-Chief, which is due to expire on Jan 10. Aoun's looming departure from the role raises fears of a vacancy at the head of the troops at a time when Lebanon is without a president and skirmishes between Israel and Hezbollah in the south have become almost daily occurrences since the onset of the Gaza war.
According to the official National News Agency (NNA), Hajjar called on the Patriarch to "be the first to invoke Lebanese citizens, ministers, and deputies to apply the law," in an interview with radio station Voix du Liban Libre,
The army commander's term is due to end on Jan. 10, 2024, while he is unofficially considered a front-runner for the vacant presidential seat, which has been unoccupied since Oct. 31, 2022. Although Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri and Hezbollah have recently expressed support for General Aoun's continued service, Gebran Bassil, head of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and an associate of Hajjar, stands firm against the term extension.
Amid this controversy, Minister Hajjar stated that a Council of Ministers meeting is scheduled for the following week, "if a quorum is reached." He conveyed that there are currently "no signs indicating that the question of extending the army commander’s mandate will be on the agenda of the cabinet session."
Parliament's bureau is also expected to meet next Monday, looking ahead to a plenary session planned before Dec. 15, potentially to extend the army chief’s mandate. This move by the Parliament, led by Nabih Berri, seeks to prevent an alternative scenario of extension by a Council of Ministers decision, which might be boycotted by the FPM.
Reflecting on the significance of the Jan. 10 deadline, Hajjar likened it to “a normal day in the life of Lebanon," the same as when the central bank governor, Riad Salameh, retired in July. Hajjar emphasized that "the law must be applied on Jan. 10," insisting that officials and the army chief themselves adhere to "the Constitution" and comply with its terms.