Al-Maliki seeks recount, warns of violence
Baghdad, March 21, 2010
Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki called for a nationwide recount of votes from Iraq's March 7 parliamentary election, warning the country could return to violence if the demand was not met.
The call came after new results from the electoral commission on Saturday showed secularist challenger Iyad Allawi edging ahead of Maliki's bloc by about 8,000 votes with about 93 percent of the counting complete.
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, also issued a statement on Sunday asking the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) for a recount in some provinces.
The tight race portends weeks or months of difficult negotiations ahead to form a new government, raising the prospect of a political vacuum that could set back Iraq's fragile security gains.
"There are demands from several political blocs to manually recount the votes and to protect the democratic experience and preserve the credibility of the political process," said Al-Maliki, a Shi'ite who won over many Iraqis with his nationalist rhetoric and steps to crush sectarian violence.
"I call on the High Electoral Commission to respond immediately to the demands of those blocs to preserve the political stability and prevent the security situation from deteriorating and avoid the return of violence," he added in a statement.
Iraq's divided vote is a reminder of the country's precarious democracy as it emerges from the shadow of war and years of sectarian slaughter unleashed by the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.
Violence fell sharply over the past two years but a tenacious insurgency keeps Iraq under siege as US troops prepare to withdraw by 2012.
Faraj Al-Haidari, head of the electoral commission, said members would meet on Sunday to discuss Al-Maliki's demand but questioned the need for a recount.
"Why should we respond to do a manual counting? Why? For what reason?" Al-Haidari said. "If there is a glitch, they can file a complaint and say there was a glitch in that station. They say they want a manual count, but this is up to the commissioners' board to decide. We do an accurate electronic count."
The vote counting process has been dogged by allegations of fraud and irregularities. Supporters of Al-Maliki's State of Law coalition complained of vote fraud last week and asked for a recount in Baghdad after initial results showed their candidate trailing the Iraqiya bloc led by Allawi, a Shi'ite former prime minister with wide support among minority Sunnis.
The IHEC had said the count was fair and included multiple checks against fraud. Al-Maliki and Allawi have been locked in a neck-and-neck race and the lead in the popular vote has changed hands several times. Seats in the 325-member parliament will be allocated on the basis of each coalition's results in each of the 18 provinces, not by the national vote count.
Al-Maliki leads in seven provinces in central and southern Iraq, six of them mainly Shi'ite. Allawi, who has tried to model himself as a non-sectarian outsider, swept western and northern areas that are home to large numbers of Sunni Arabs. He also holds a narrow lead over the powerful Kurdish ruling party in Kirkuk, the disputed city that is Iraq's northern oil hub.
Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) is one of two groups that have dominated Kurdish politics for decades. The alliance of the two leads in three provinces. - Reuters