Iraq Election: Can Maliki Win With a Baghdad Recount?

An Iraqi court has ordered a manual recount of more than 20 percent of the ballots cast in the Iraq election. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki hopes the results take the lead away from challenger Iyad Allawi.

Baghdad – An Iraqi appeals panel ordered Monday that more than 20 percent of the votes cast in national elections be manually recounted in response to complaints from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s political bloc, further placing the Iraq election results in doubt.

Unofficial results in the March 7 parliamentary elections give Maliki’s main challenger, Iyad Allawi, a narrow lead in seats in the next parliament. Mr. Maliki is hoping the recount eliminates that lead.

Mr. Allawi, a secular Shiite, is believed to have won 91 seats in the 325-seat parliament while Maliki was left with 89 in the preliminary results. Neither is enough to form a government on its own but under most interpretations of Iraqi law, the party with the most number of seats would take the lead in forming a coalition government.

Iraqi election authorities ordered a recount of votes cast in the Baghdad area – more than 23 percent of those nationwide – after the appeals committee of the High Judicial Council upheld a challenge by Maliki’s State of Law Coalition.

Ayad al-Kinani a board member of the Iraq High Electoral Commission (IHEC) said the committee had rejected challenges to the vote count in three other provinces – Ninevah, Salahadin, and Anbar.

He said the process of unsealing the ballot boxes stored in secure warehouses, emptying them. and manually recounting them in front of election observers was expected to take eight to ten days.

Al-Kinani said the electoral commission had rejected 200 other challenges to the election results but was still investigating another 137. None of them are thought to be nearly as extensive as the Baghdad recount. UN officials have said they were awaiting the results of the investigations but had seen evidence of wide-spread fraud in the elections, only the second parliamentary vote since Saddam Hussein was toppled in 2003.

As political maneuvering continues over the election results, US and Iraqi officials say the key political parties have yet to begin serious negotiations on forming a coalition government. Before the election, Maliki broke away from his traditional Shiite partners, leaving both his coalition and Allawi’s a broad range of potential political partners.

Political leaders have said they are waiting for Iraqi’s election results to be certified before engaging in substantive talks on building a coalition – a process which could take place as early as June or as late as September, according to political analysts.

Sahar Issa contributed to this story.