BEIRUT: A convoy accompanied President Michel Aoun as he left for his home in Rabieh on Sunday, ending his six-year term.
Hundreds of supporters of Lebanese Aoun on Saturday set up tents around the presidential palace and settled in for an overnight stay as they prepared to give the controversial leader a colorful send-off.
The Free Patriotic Movement, the party founded by Aoun in 2005, set up dozens of tents in woods surrounding the presidential palace so supporters could camp out and farewell their leader in style.
The FPM decided to make Aoun’s departure a colorful affair despite controversies accompanying the end of his term and parliament’s failure to elect a successor during the two-month constitutional deadline.
Aoun took office six years ago after a presidential vacuum lasting more than two years, and will leave his post on Monday without handing over the position to a successor.
In both cases, the vacuum resulted from Aoun’s insistence, firstly, on becoming president and then leaving the position to a member of his entourage.
In one of his farewell interviews, Aoun told Reuters that US sanctions would not stop his son-in-law and FPM head Gebran Bassil from becoming a presidential candidate.
“Once he’s elected as president, the sanctions will go away,” Aoun said.
The US sanctioned Bassil, a Hezbollah ally, over corruption in November 2020.
Aoun warned of constitutional chaos after his departure under a caretaker government with incomplete powers, saying: “Hezbollah’s role was useful as a deterrent in the indirect negotiations to demarcate the maritime border with Israel.”
Presidential spokesman Rafic Chlala said: “The official ceremonies for Aoun’s departure from the presidential palace begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, while the popular celebrations will begin at 11:30.”
The FPM is organizing the celebrations under the slogan “We’ll stay with you,” as Bassil called on his supporters and friends to accompany Aoun “proudly.”
The decree accepting the resignation of the caretaker government has reportedly been completed and Aoun is expected to sign it on Monday, the final day of his term, to prevent any disturbances to celebrations on Sunday.
Aoun and his political team have refused to let the government of caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati take over the administration on the grounds it has “lost legitimacy since it resigned after the parliamentary elections in May.”
Mikati was designated to form a new government, but has failed to do so and remains at the head of a caretaker government.
Bassil on Saturday accused Mikati and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri of making plans for the post-Aoun era to auction off the remaining powers of the president.
“We are ready to resist this and prevent them from taking the president’s powers away. This is a warning,” he said.
A source close to Mikati said that issuing a decree accepting the government’s resignation is pointless, as it does not change anything in reality.
Mikati has repeatedly said that he will not be confrontational or provocative, and will follow the constitution, the source added.
The Lebanese Forces party, bitter rivals of the Free Patriotic Movement, will not joins Sunday’s celebrations.
Charles Jabbour, head of the party’s communication and media team, told Arab News: “The party leader, Samir Geagea, issued an internal memorandum asking partisans to avoid any celebration that might be organized in their villages or regions, on the occasion of Aoun’s departure from the presidential palace, because it is a day of deep sadness due to the situation in the country, and fear that the other party may take advantage of this occasion to engage in provocations.”
Jabbour added: “The threat to sign a decree accepting the resignation of the government does not change reality. Rather, it is a last-minute blackmail attempt to form a government of his liking, otherwise, the ministers of Aoun’s team will boycott the government. Certainly, such practices will introduce new unnecessary complications to the country. The most important thing is the security stability in the country because it is all we have left now.”
Sami Gemayel, leader of the Lebanese Kataeb Party, urged his supporters “to avoid offensive speech and provocations on Sunday, out of respect for the presidency and Aoun’s person.”