Lebanon confirms March elections amid race to secure IMF bailout

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The Lebanese parliament voted Tuesday to hold legislative elections on March 27, parliamentary sources said, giving Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government just a few months to try to secure an IMF recovery plan amid a deepening economic crisis.

Lebanon’s financial crisis, described by the World Bank as one of the deepest depressions in modern history, had been compounded by political stalemate for more than a year before Mikati assembled a cabinet alongside President Michel Aoun.

The currency has lost 90% of its value and three-quarters of the population have fallen into poverty. The shortage of basic goods like fuel and medicine has made daily life a struggle.

Mikati, whose cabinet is focused on reviving talks with the International Monetary Fund, had promised to make sure the elections take place without delay, and Western governments urged the same.

But a dispute over the investigation into the Beirut port explosion last year that killed more than 200 people and destroyed large swaths of the capital threatens to bypass his cabinet.

Some ministers, aligned with politicians that the lead investigator, Judge Tarek Bitar, seeks to question about the blast, demanded last week that the judge be removed from the investigation.

Mikati has since said that the cabinet will not convene another meeting until an agreement is reached on how to deal with the matter.

The worst street violence in the decade

On Thursday, Beirut witnessed the worst street violence in more than a decade with seven people shot dead as protesters from the Shiite Hezbollah and Amal movements broke through to demonstrate against Judge Bitar.

The bloodshed, evoking memories of the 1975-1990 civil war, added to fears for the stability of a country awash in weapons.

The date of the snap elections (the elections were originally expected to be held in May) was chosen so as not to clash with the holy Islamic fasting month of Ramadan.

Once a new parliament is elected, Mikati’s cabinet will only act as an interim until a new prime minister receives a vote of confidence and is tasked with forming a new government.

(REUTERS)