BEIRUT: Change and Reform bloc MP Alain Aoun said Thursday that the upcoming meeting between key MPs and ministers belonging to the Free Patriotic Movement would touch on decisive issues, including the movement’s relations with Hezbollah and the question of who will lead the party after Michel Aoun.
The anticipated meeting is set to take place Friday at the Saint John Monastery in Beit Mery.
Aoun told The Daily Star in an interview that the meeting would reassess the movement’s status and its relationship with other political parties, Bkirki and some Arab and Western states. In general, Aoun said, the purpose of the meeting would allow the group to reflect on events since 2005.
The meeting will also address the current situation of the government, the electoral law, municipalities and state finance, as well as the status of Christians in the region, especially in light of the so-called Arab Spring.
“The meeting should produce clear stances on two pivotal issues: We should start to re-evaluate our relationships with all parties after our recent experience,” Aoun said. “Most important, we should set up a strategy and road map for the next phase before the presidential election.”
“The presidential election is an essential milestone and it offers us the chance of correcting things in the state and make headway for our reformist project,” he added.
The meeting comes at a time when ties between the FPM and some of its allies, notably the Amal Movement and the Marada Movement, are especially strained.
Responding to rumors that the FPM would appoint caretaker Energy Minister Gebran Bassil as its deputy head, Aoun said: “It is not an option for the General [Michel Aoun] to step down and leave politics.”
Michel Aoun said last month that he would establish and train a cadre to continue the FPM legacy, suggesting that he may step down as the formal head of the party.
He said there were “many competent” FPM officials qualified to succeed him, but added that he would remain in his post for “an indefinite period of time.”
Analysts and party insiders cite strong internal opposition toward Bassil as successor. Bassil is Aoun’s son-in-law and is widely seen as Aoun’s preferred candidate and likely heir.
“It is too early to discuss who might succeed Aoun,” the general’s nephew said. “This [decision] will be taken up in internal workshops, which will meet to discuss party regulations and mechanisms that will allow for the continuity of the party after Aoun.”
He added: “We are still at the beginning of this path and this path is not a week or day long journey.”
The imperative question at the moment, Alain Aoun emphasized, was how to preserve the movement’s political legacy and agreeing on new leadership should its head resign at some point in the future.
“ Michel Aoun is very popular and his absence will affect the popularity and status of the party, that’s why those who circulate rumors of his stepping down mean to harm the party, and are intending to weaken it before presidential and parliamentary elections,” Aoun said.
Asked if there were FPM members who were demanding the movement re-evaluate its relationship with Hezbollah, Aoun said: “During the meeting there will be a session devoted to the evaluation of political relationships with other parties based on our experience with them in the past few years, and their stances with respect to extending the mandates of military officials.”
Referring to Hezbollah directly, he said it “needs to be examined to see how it can continue in the next phase and if it needs changing.”
Whether the FPM will attend Parliament sessions, Aoun added: “This is one of the issues to be discussed at the conclave.”
“We are not totally against attending the sessions, but we have our legislative and political reservations,” he said, adding that “contacts with Speaker Nabih Berri’s Development and Liberation bloc have not been severed, and we will see whether this will lead to eliminating our reservations.”
Touching on the relationship between the FPM and the Marada Movement, he said that “this issue is being followed up.”
“This issue needs time and will be sorted out gradually, especially as there are no substantial disagreements,” the MP said.
Speaking of the Cabinet formation crisis, Aoun denied that the FPM was involved in the process to form a new government. He remained pessimistic that a new Cabinet would materialize anytime soon.
“Maybe after Eid al-Adha, things will pick up pace, but this will not lead to the formation of the Cabinet because there is still a deadlock,” he added.
“It seems that all the parties who could contribute to resolve this issue are waiting to see if the outcome of the regional conflict will have positive implications for them, and subsequently resolve the government crisis in their favor,” he said.
“This is something shameful, but at the same time it is the reality,” the lawmaker said.