Lebanese president baulks at March polls amid economic meltdown

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BEIRUT – Lebanese President Michel Aoun said on Friday he would not sign any authorisation for legislative elections to take place in March, adding to doubts about when the vote can be held amid economic and political meltdown.

Aoun told the Al Akhbar newspaper the early date for elections, approved by parliament in October, would deprive thousands of voters from reaching the voting age of 21.

Snowy weather in March would also mean voters could face difficulties reaching polling stations through blocked mountain roads, he said.

The planned March 27 election date would give Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government even less time to try to secure an IMF recovery plan.

“I will not agree to legislative elections except on one of two dates, May 8 or May 15,” Aoun was quoted as saying by the paper.

Aoun had previously refused to sign a law passed by parliament bringing forward the election to March and sent it back to the legislature, which once again adopted it.

Gebran Bassil, the leader of Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and his son-in-law, withdrew with his parliamentary bloc from that parliamentary session in October when the date was approved again.

The FPM this week presented a legal complaint to the constitutional council disputing the date of the election and the proposed election law.

Lebanon’s financial crisis, which the World Bank labelled one of the deepest depressions of modern history, has been compounded by political deadlock and a row over the probe into last year’s Beirut port blast that killed more than 200 people.

The currency has lost 90% of its value and three-quarters of the population have been propelled into poverty. Shortages of basic goods such as fuel and medicines have made daily life a struggle.

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