Bassil: We are always available and ready for dialogue to agree on a consensual name

Bassil: We are always available and ready for dialogue to agree on a consensual name

| Monday 05 June 2023

Source: The National News

The leader of one of Lebanon’s most prominent political parties has confirmed they will join their traditional parliamentary rivals and vote for Jihad Azour in the country’s next presidential ballot.

He conceded however, that Mr Azour – an economist and IMF official – currently lacks the necessary support in the legislature to become the next head of state.
Gebran Bassil, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), told The National that his party was not “entrenched” in its position and wanted to find a parliamentary consensus. “If we support a name, it doesn't mean we refuse all others. We are always available and ready for dialogue to agree on a consensual name.”

Mr Bassil said he and his party's position was “very clear, very precise”.

“Azour was among many names on which we approved. The others chose one of those names. And – since they agreed on that name – we are in the obligation of voting for it.”

In 11 sessions, no candidate has come anywhere near the minimum amount of votes required. Michel Moawad has courted a bloc of around a third of parliament, typically made up of parties and independents opposed to the Iran-backed armed group and political party Hezbollah, but his campaign has stalled.

Hezbollah and its Shiite ally the Amal Movement, led by Mr Berri, have announced their support for Suleiman Frangieh – whose candidacy Mr Bassil said he does not support.

Mr Moawad withdrew his candidacy on Sunday night and – along with much of the bloc that had supported him – said he would back Mr Azour. But the combination of that bloc and the FPM would still mean Mr Azour is short of the two-thirds majority needed to triumph in the first round.

The FPM, which has been allied with Hezbollah, although the strength of that relationship has waned, has cast blank ballots and has portrayed itself as a third bloc, in between most of those who backed Mr Moawad and the Shiite duo. That could now change after a rare agreement with parties including traditional foes the Lebanese Forces and the Kataeb Party.

“To be precise, Jihad Azour is one of the names on which [the FPM] agreed,” Mr Bassil said in his first comments since the pro-Moawad bloc announced their support for Mr Azour.

“We are trying to build this consensus with the two sides, the two sides that are confronting. And when we consider that we are not part of any of them … we made big progress by agreeing with one side – but we still need to agree with the other,” he told The National from his home in the hills overlooking Beirut.

“Jihad Azour is a name on which we agreed with one side. And if we are invited for an election session, we can vote for him. But will this make him President if the other side does not agree on him? Unfortunately, no.”

Breaking deadlock
While two-thirds of the vote in parliament is needed for a candidate to win in the first round, an absolute majority is required in subsequent rounds of the same session. In the previous 11 sessions many MPs have left the legislature and the quorum has been lost.

By convention, the presidency is reserved for a Maronite Christian in Lebanon's unique confessional system.

The apparent convergence in views between parliament's two largest Christian parties – the FPM and LF – is rare. Both sides are keen to stress that they still disagree on almost anything else, but arguably such convergence has not been seen since 2016 when FPM founder Michel Aoun and LF leader Samir Geagea – two civil war foes – reached an agreement that propelled the former to the presidency.

Mr Bassil said he was “very clear” that his party did not want to be confrontational.

“We don't want to rally with a party against another party. Fine, when you go to the ballot, you have to make a decision. But we are trying to avoid this by also trying to bring the other side, which is the supporters of Frangieh, to a deal.”

Mr Bassil said his support for Mr Azour was because he did not see him as a confrontational candidate “[The Shiite duo] can refuse any name. If they say we only want Frangieh, then all the others will be confrontational. This rejection of everybody, this cannot work. This is not Lebanon.”

"Now, if they say this name is refused, but there are others that are accepted and let's agree on one, that means that means yes, they are for consensus and they are for dialogue - and this is what Lebanon is about."

The lack of a president is not uncommon in Lebanon, where the head of state typically comes to power after months or even years of bartering. But the current government vacuum is unprecedented, with the cabinet of Prime Minister Najib Mikati in caretaker status and thus severely stripped of its powers.

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