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Baghdad vote recount starts amid new ballot-stuffing allegations

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-05-03

A manual recount of some of the ballots cast in Baghdad in the March 7 parliamentary elections began Monday following an appeal by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who alleged that the electronic counting system was flawed.

AFP - An election recount that could alter who becomes Iraq's prime minister began in Baghdad on Monday amid allegations of ballot-stuffing, the latest in a series of threats to the vote's credibility.
   
The war-torn country's March 7 parliamentary poll has yet to produce a government and the outcome remains shrouded in doubt due to the recount and an imminent ruling on whether several winning candidates should be disqualified.
   
The United States is increasingly concerned that an initially credible election could unravel because of political stalemate, a lack of democratic transparency and the potential disenfranchisement of a large number of voters.
   
The recount, which is expected to take two weeks, follows a successful appeal by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who alleged that he had lost votes because of violations at polling centres in Baghdad during the March 7 ballot.
   
No sooner was it under way than new allegations of manipulation were raised by a leading member of Maliki's State of Law Alliance, who hit out at the conduct of the recount by the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) and lodged an appeal to have it halted.
   
Hussein al-Shahristani, Iraq's oil minister and a close Maliki ally, insisted that voter lists be reconciled with the number of ballot papers sitting in 11,000 boxes.
   
"We presented a new complaint to the judicial assembly," said Shahristani, a member of Maliki's alliance.
   
"We have information that there was manipulation in the desire of voters. Boxes were filled with forged papers. So we demand the process stops or changes are made so that it works correctly."
   
The UN's envoy to Iraq, Ad Melkert, defended the integrity of the recount.
   
"It has been set up in a very professional way," he said. "It is yet another reassurance to the Iraqi voters that their vote will be respected."
   
Baghdad was by far the biggest prize in the election almost two months ago, with 70 seats on offer in a new 325-seat parliament.
   
"We will count 600 boxes today," IHEC official Qassim al-Abbudi earlier told reporters at the Rasheed hotel in the Iraqi capital where the recount is taking place.
   
Officials from the United Nations, European Union, the Arab League, and the US embassy in Baghdad are monitoring the process.
   
Former premier Iyad Allawi's secular Iraqiya coalition won the election, defeating Maliki by 91 votes to 89, according to results still to be ratified by the Supreme Court.
   
Both need 163 seats to form a majority government but coalition talks with smaller parties appear to have stalled.
   
Maliki won the vote in Baghdad -- taking 26 seats compared to Allawi's 24 -- in what was the second national election in Iraq since the 2003 US-led ouster of dictator Saddam Hussein.
   
But the recount could lead to a wider winning margin for the premier in the capital, allowing him to eventually overturn his two-seat defeat nationally.
   
At a briefing on Sunday, Ambassador Gary Grappo, head of the political section at the US Embassy in Baghdad, said he did not expect significant changes to the election result.
   
The recount, however, coincides with a ruling expected this week on whether nine election-winning candidates will be disqualified.
   
The candidates are variously accused of links to Saddam's outlawed Baath party and military units during his reign.
   
Grappo said the role of the Justice and Accountability Committee (JAC) that compiled the list of candidates who could be stopped from taking up seats remained opaque.
   
"From our perspective we see the votes cast by individual citizens as sacrosanct, and now we see we have an organisation of questionable legitimacy trying to alter votes cast by citizens," he said.
   
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on April 27 urged Iraqi leaders to resolve their rows and form a new government quickly.

Date created : 2010-05-03

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