Rifts appear between Lebanon’s two political allies

Rifts appear between Lebanon’s two political allies
Prime minister Najib Mikati chairing a cabinet meeting at the government palace in Lebanon's capital Beirut on December 5, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 07 December 2022

Rifts appear between Lebanon’s two political allies

Rifts appear between Lebanon’s two political allies
  • Free Patriotic Movement hints at parting with Hezbollah, accusing it of attacking president’s position

BEIRUT: The Free Patriotic Movement’s anger over caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati convening a Cabinet session on Monday led to a shakeup in the relationship between the party and its ally, Hezbollah.

FPM head Gebran Bassil, in a press conference on Tuesday, expressed anger over “expanded decentralization, even without laws.”

Hezbollah and the Amal Movement provided political cover for Mikati to convene a Cabinet session to approve the process of securing medicines for dialysis and cancer patients, which Mikati deems an absolute necessity.

The FPM refuses to hold any Cabinet session in light of the presidential vacuum in order to prevent Mikati from exercising the powers of the Christian president, especially since the movement believes the caretaker government has no right to play this role.

As the country experiences a devastating economic crisis, eight attempts by Lebanon’s divided parliament to elect a president have failed after the term of President Micael Aoun ended over a month ago.

Aoun’s son-in-law Bassil has indirectly presented himself as a presidential candidate, given that his parliamentary bloc is the largest Christian bloc and has the right to nominate the future president.

Bassil rejects the candidacy of former Minister Suleiman Frangieh for the post, who is supported by Hezbollah and Amal.

In a press conference, Bassil said that the Cabinet session on Monday was “unconstitutional, illegal and unconventional,” describing it as “an execution of the constitution and a fatal blow to (the) Taif Agreement.”

The FPM ministers boycotted the Cabinet session, with the exception of the Minister of Industry George Boushkian, who secured the quorum for the session. His behavior resulted in his party, the Tashnak, an ally of the FPM’s, renouncing him for not abiding by its decision to boycott the session.

The FPM website stated that “Hezbollah contributes to the normalization of the vacuum and the assault on the president’s position.”

Bassil indirectly addressed Hezbollah, saying: “If someone thinks that they are pressuring us on the presidential issue, we would like to tell them that it will not work.

“We will not attend the parliament sessions if we do not find a great national need to do so, and we will seek to abandon the blank vote quicker and go for a presidential candidate.”

MP Michel Moussa, a member of the Development and Liberation parliamentary bloc headed by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, downplayed the possibility of any change in the political map at the level of the presidential elections as a result of the tensions following the Cabinet session. “Not electing a new president contributes to deepening these conflicts,” he said.

Moussa stressed the need to conduct a serious and effective dialogue between all parties to calm tensions and elect a president.

Hezbollah avoided commenting on Bassil’s statements.

MP Bilal Abdullah, a member of the Democratic Gathering bloc, said: “One party has unsuccessfully tried to raise the sectarian discourse. Hezbollah did not respond.”

A political observer, preferring anonymity, said: “Hezbollah, by participating in the Cabinet session, tried to assure Bassil that it was not alone on the scene.”

The Sovereign Front for Lebanon, which opposes Hezbollah, stressed that the MPs must remain in the parliament hall until a new president is elected for the sake of the country and the constitution.