Lebanese reformist, another deputy loses seats in parliament

BEIRUT (AP) – Two newly elected Lebanese lawmakers, including an activist who pledged to fight corruption, lost their seats in parliament on Thursday following an appeals process before the country’s constitutional council.

Ramy Finge, a dentist and democracy activist from the northern city of Tripoli, was among 13 independent candidates who won seats in Lebanese parliamentary elections last May, unseating opponents of traditional Lebanese parties.

The Lebanese Constitutional Council’s decision to revoke his seat followed an appeal alleging that the initial vote count in his favor was inaccurate. The council reversed Finge’s victory and returned his seat to his longtime opponent and lawmaker Faisal Karami.

Karami is a close ally of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militant group and Syrian President Bashar Assad. Thursday’s council decision adds another lawmaker to a Hezbollah-backed multi-party coalition.

Under the Lebanese political system, opponents who run against a candidate can later appeal before the council. Local and international election observers say they have documented cases of fraud in May’s elections, as well as vote-buying and sometimes violence.

The decision comes as Lebanon’s newly elected but still deeply divided parliament has been unable to elect a new president after President Michel Aoun’s term ended last month.

Finge supported Michel Mouawad for the presidency, a candidate supported by traditional parties close to the United States and the Arab countries of the Gulf and a staunch opponent of Hezbollah.

The tiny Mediterranean nation of Lebanon is grappling with an economic crisis that has impoverished about three-quarters of its 6 million people, and a political crisis that has left it without a president and only a caretaker government with limited functions.

In May, Finge told the Associated Press that he hoped to “dismantle this corrupt ruling class” in parliament and, along with other independent counterparts, pull Lebanon out of its economic quagmire.

Mark Daou, another independent MP, paid tribute to Finge following his ousting and described him in a tweet as a “responsible and serious representative”.

“We will stand by your side and stand together on all fronts,” Daou said.

The constitutional council also ousted Firas Salloum, a lawmaker from northern Lebanon and the country’s Alawite minority, on Thursday. He was replaced by reformist candidate Haidar Nasser, who appealed after the election.

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