by Hussein Dakroub, The Daily Star
BEIRUT: A war of words flared up Monday between MP Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement and the Future Movement over the presidential deadlock, threatening to raise political tension in the volatile country and further complicate already stalled attempts to elect a new president.
Coupled with mounting security threats linked to the war in Syria, the political escalation, a norm in Lebanon’s turbulent history, reflected the state of disarray and divisions in the country following the rival parties’ failure to elect a president or hold parliamentary elections on time.
A number of Future lawmakers lashed out at Aoun, accusing him of losing his temper after the FPM leader charged that the Future Movement took orders from Riyadh and accused Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal of vetoing his candidacy for the presidency.
In remarks published by As-Safir newspaper Monday, Aoun said presidential election talks with the Future Movement came to a halt after Riyadh ruled him out as a candidate.
“Dialogue with [former] Prime Minister Saad Hariri on the presidency has stopped because Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal put a veto on my name,” Aoun said.
In a clear allusion to Hariri, who has been living abroad for more than three years for security reasons, Aoun said: “In the face of imminent dangers, we notice that some are living outside Lebanon and others can take a plane and leave whenever they feel they are threatened. But we are deep rooted in this land and are staying here. We have no choice but to defend our existence. This is what unites us with Hezbollah.”
Future MP Ahmad Fatfat hit back at Aoun, reminding him of when he fled Baabda Palace to the French Embassy in 1990, leaving behind his wife and three daughters.
Syrian warplanes bombed Baabda Palace on Oct. 13, 1990, to evict Aoun, the then-Army commander, who opposed the 1989 Taif Accord.
“If Aoun meant the one who is living abroad is [former] Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Hariri is living in the country. But the one who ran away is Michel Aoun when he left his wife and daughters behind and left the Army [soldiers] to get killed in Araya on Oct. 13  and ran away,” Fatfat said in an interview with MTV station. “Aoun won the marathon race between the French Embassy and Baabda.”
Future MP Atif Majdalani said Aoun’s remarks reflected “tension and fears” that Hezbollah’s nomination of the FPM leader for the presidency might be a maneuver.
“We were not surprised by Gen. Aoun’s statement in which he put the blame on others. It’s very clear that Gen. Aoun is in a state of confusion and has lost his merit to be a consensus candidate for the presidency,” Majdalani told The Daily Star.
“As soon as Hezbollah Secretary-General [Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah] named Gen. Aoun [last week] as the March 8 candidate for the presidency, Aoun was no longer a consensus candidate but a provocative one.”During several rounds of talks held between senior Future and FPM officials in the past months, including meetings with Hariri in France, Aoun sought to promote himself as a consensus or compromise candidate for the country’s top Christian post, arguing that he heads the largest Christian bloc in Parliament.
“From the very beginning, Hariri told Aoun: ‘If you are presenting yourself as a consensus candidate for the presidency, you have to get approval for this from the Christian side in the March 14 coalition in order for us to support you,’” Majdalani said.
The March 14 coalition, which opposes Aoun’s candidacy, has backed Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea as its candidate for the presidency, while MP Walid Jumblatt has nominated Aley MP Henri Helou as a candidate of his parliamentary bloc.
In another interview, Fatfat said Aoun was too irritable to serve as a president.“Aoun attacked the Future Movement because he cannot attack his ally Hezbollah, which has let him down on two major occasions,” Fatfat told the Central News Agency.
“The first occasion was concerning Parliament’s mandate extension, and the second was when Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah embraced him as the March 8 candidate and thus stripped the ‘consensus candidate’ label from him,” he said.
Fatfat said Aoun had clearly “lost his nerve,” and thus began to throw random accusations. “Most importantly, it has become clear that whoever opposed Aoun’s election was right, because someone who [becomes agitated] so quickly cannot be a president,” he said.
MP Ibrahim Kanaan from Aoun’s parliamentary Change and Reform bloc refused to comment on the Future MPs’ verbal attacks on Aoun. “We will respond after the bloc’s meeting Tuesday,” he told The Daily Star.
Meanwhile, Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai kept up his harsh rhetoric against Lebanese lawmakers for failing to elect a president and accused them of deliberately seeking vacuums in state institutions to serve personal interests.
“The political leadership loses its raison d’etre if it fails its commitments to the people, and in Lebanon the ruling class is disabled,” Rai said in Bkirki at the opening of the eighth conference of the Council of Catholic Patriarchs and Bishops in Lebanon.
Rai, who had recently returned from a two-week pastoral visit to Australia, said Lebanese expatriates were distressed by the state of decadence and dissolution that Lebanon has reached as a result of the politicians’ lousy performance. “They [expatriates] condemned politicians, particularly Lebanese parliamentarians, who betray their national responsibilities by fomenting a vacuum in the presidency post in Lebanon by failing to elect a president to serve personal objectives,” he said.
“They also condemned the Lebanese parliamentarians who fomented a vacuum in the legislative authority by extending their mandate, again violating the Constitution in cold blood,” Rai added.