BEIRUT: Michel Aoun’s Change and Reform parliamentary bloc will hold a conclave next week under the shadow of the Free Patriotic Movement leader’s rumored resignation and deep splits in the party over the future leadership.
Aoun said last month that he would establish and train a cadre to continue the FPM path after him, suggesting that he may step down as formal head of the party.
He said there were “many competent” FPM officials qualified to succeed him, but remained coy about his plans, saying he would remain in his post for “an indefinite period of time.”
Analysts and party insiders cite strong internal opposition from some quarters to caretaker Energy Minister Gebran Bassil, Aoun’s son-in-law, who is widely seen as Aoun’s preferred candidate and likely heir.
The meeting also comes at a time of strained ties between the FPM and some of its allies, notably the Amal Movement and the Marada Movement.
An FPM source close to Aoun who requested to remain anonymous said that many FPM officials were fed up with Bassil’s domination of the FPM and the special relation between him and Aoun.
The source said that the conclave was an attempt to reunify ranks within the party, but predicted this final attempt would fail. He ruled out that it would lead to any change on the party’s structure that might avert a crisis.
“I think it [the conclave] is too much but too late,” said retired Gen. Elias Hanna, who has been critical of Aoun in the past. “Whoever wants to resign from the Free Patriotic Movement has already done so and many are already disappointed by its performance.”
“The Free Patriotic Movement is approaching the upcoming phase when none of the young men who took part in the [movement’s] struggle occupy a political post except the brother-in-law and the nephew,” Hanna continued. “What is being prepared for the future of the movement?”
Aoun’s stances have put him at odds with his allies on several occasions recently.
Aoun’s opposition to extending Parliament’s term did not prevent it from taking place in June, after the move gained support by most political parties, including FPM allies Hezbollah, Amal and the Marada Movement.
Aoun was also alone in opposing the decision to extend the term of Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwaji for two years, a move which took place in July.
The Orthodox Electoral proposal, championed by Aoun, was also not passed by Parliament after its rival the Lebanese Forces went back on its support at the eleventh hour.
Commenting on the FPM’s ties with Hezbollah, Hanna said that while Aoun backed Hezbollah internally, particularly among Christians, Hezbollah did not take Aoun’s interests into account when making major political decisions.
“The FPM was stubborn a lot, gave a lot and got zero in return,” said Hanna, insisting that there was a high level of uncertainty regarding the future of the FPM.
“He [Aoun] hasn’t prepared anybody to succeed him. Who will he prepare? Who can lead the Free Patriotic Movement like Aoun?” Hanna told The Daily Star.
He went on to say that there was no FPM official who could mobilize the base like Aoun, citing divisions within FPM ranks over supporting Bassil as a potential successor.
“The first generation leadership is different from the second generation, particularly if it [the second generation] is controversial, like a son-in-law [of Aoun],” Hanna explained.
But Naji Hayek, a member of FPM’s founding committee, denied the conclave would address succession issues, emphasizing that its main goal was to give party members a chance to discuss and analyze the performance of MPs and ministers from Aoun’s bloc over the most recent period.
“The aim of the conclave is to discuss draft laws presented by the bloc that were passed by Parliament and those that were not, and explain why they weren’t passed,” Hayek told The Daily Star.
“We are now in a decisive period; we are on the eve of a presidential election that will be followed by parliamentary elections,” Hayek added. Presidential polls are scheduled to be held in spring 2014 and parliamentary elections in November of the same year.
Hayek said that MPs from Aoun’s bloc want to explain their legislative strategy to their voters.
The meeting will be held on Oct.11 in Deir al-Qalaa in the Metn village of Beit Mery, and attended by MPs of Aoun’s bloc along with caretaker ministers loyal to him.
The date is symbolic, as it comes two days before Oct. 13, which marks 23 years since Aoun’s forces were defeated in then-Christian East Beirut, followed by 15 years in exile for the former general.
Hayek also denied Aoun would be making any major announcements during the conclave, adding that the FPM’s relations with its allies would only be tackled on the sideline of the event. – Additional reporting by Hasan Lakkis