BEIRUT: Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun denied Monday media reports that he would resign from his post within six months, as an FPM member said party officials were mulling over ways to select a successor for the former Army commander.
“I am staying in my post for an indefinite period of time,” Aoun told reporters after chairing the weekly meeting of his Change and Reform parliamentary bloc at his Rabieh residence.
Aoun said that contrary to some reports, the FPM would not cease to exist upon his resignation.
“The Free Patriotic Movement represents generations and their aspirations. It is in need of a cadre to continue shouldering the mission, one that I have to establish and train,” Aoun said.
Aoun said there were many competent FPM officials that could succeed him once he leaves.
“They are our students, whom we trained and who are now getting leadership experience and are being exposed to the precise roots of Lebanese society,” Aoun said.
A local media outlet reported Tuesday that Aoun told FPM officials in a recent meeting that they had to choose a successor for him within six months, as he would not remain in his post.
The newspaper added that Aoun believed that selecting his successor while he was still alive was better because it would avoid leadership conflicts in the future. The media outlet said Aoun did not specify whether his successor would be elected or appointed.
Naji Hayek, an FPM official who attended the meeting that took place Saturday, said discussions tackled several topics, including ideas concerning the mechanism to select a successor for Aoun when he eventually steps down. But Hayek said “nothing is imminent.”
Speaking to The Daily Star, Hayek said the meeting was not significant in itself, because it was a routine meeting Aoun holds with FPM officials.
He said Aoun was asking the FPM officials for their opinions on the mechanism to choose his successor when he resigns.
“Eventually, it is bound to happen,” he said.
Hayek said it was still unclear whether Aoun’s eventual successor would be elected or appointed, adding that there was no time frame for Aoun’s resignation.
“I think elections will be likely held,” he said.
Aoun has been at the helm of the FPM since it was established in 1990.
Aoun returned to Lebanon in May 2005 after 15 years of exile in France and now heads the largest Christian parliamentary bloc, after his movement participated in elections in 2005 and 2009.
The Christian leader was a staunch critic of the Syrian army’s presence in Lebanon that ended in April 2005. But Aoun currently backs the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, which has been facing a relentless uprising for over two years.
Speaking to The Daily Star, FPM sources said the information published by the media outlet was “inaccurate.”
The sources said that FPM officials, at the request of Aoun, had recently discussed introducing radical changes to the structure of the party, that have manifested in the changing of FPM officials represented in Lebanese districts along with senior officials in the group.
The sources, who requested to remain anonymous, added that discussions never tackled the issue of Aoun stepping down within six months or any specific period.
The sources refused to give further details on the restructuring process within the party, adding that FPM officials who are very close to Aoun leaked the rumors of his resignation to the media.
“They have been both secretly and publicly preparing for the possibility of Aoun’s resignation for a long time, hoping that Aoun himself would allow them to succeed him,” one of the sources said.
The sources added that on several occasions, these officials have taken political and nonpolitical stances without getting Aoun’s approval.
The sources said that Aoun should explain in detail to his supporters the fine points of the restructuring process in the FPM.
The sources said the hasty plans put forward by some FPM officials to succeed Aoun and the leaks they made to media outlets had actually dealt a severe blow to Aoun and to the FPM.