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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 October 2018

Iraq begins nationwide manual recount of election votes

The results may take weeks to be announced 

An Iraqi voter has his biometric voting card checked with his fingerprint upon arriving at a poll station in the northern multi-ethnic city of Kirkuk on May 12, 2018. Marwan Ibrahim/AFP
An Iraqi voter has his biometric voting card checked with his fingerprint upon arriving at a poll station in the northern multi-ethnic city of Kirkuk on May 12, 2018. Marwan Ibrahim/AFP

A manual recount of votes from Iraq’s parliamentary elections began on Tuesday in an attempt to end the country's political stalemate.

May's elections, the fourth since the fall of former dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003, had the lowest voter turnout at only 44 per cent, fuelled by public anger at the country's dysfunctional political system.

“The counting will be conducted by local electoral offices in numerous cities where a high record of complaints were made, including Kirkuk, Sulaimaniya, Erbil, Dohuk, Nineveh, Salahuddin and Anbar,” Saad Al Hadithi, a spokesman for Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi, told The National.

Suspect ballot boxes were transferred and stored in Kirkuk's municipality offices late on Monday.

"The results may take one to two weeks or even a month to be announced, but the decision is not up to the government to make, it’s now in the hands of the supreme court,” Mr Al Hadithi said. The results will be taken to the high court to be ratified.

The recount will be carried out one province at a time, said Jaber Al Jaberi, a politician representing Anbar.

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Representatives from the United Nations and international observers will inspect the manual recount. Yet, lawmakers in Kirkuk showed frustration at the lack of external presence over the process.

"The number of foreign observers that are watching for signs for fraud is very low," Arshad Al Salihi, head of the Turkmen Front in Kirkuk told The National. "This is a worrying matter as there are only two observers per box and there are hundreds of rigged boxes."

The initial results were disputed by the Turkmen and Arab communities of the region which is also inhabited by a large Kurdish population.

In the oil-rich city, the results showed a preliminary win for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), a historic Kurdish party. Yet, the overall outcome gave the nationalist Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr's electoral alliance with the communists the largest share of seats in parliament with 54 seats out of the 329 available.

The results pushed out entrenched political figures as Iraqis sought change in the country.

Votes cast overseas in Iran, Turkey, Britain, Lebanon, Jordan, the United States and Germany will also be recounted.

In an amendment to the elections law passed last month, parliament demanded a nationwide recount of votes and the cancellation of ballots cast by certain sections of voters.

The demand for a cancellation of votes was rejected, but calls for a recount were backed by the Supreme Court after some parties made allegations of ballot stuffing after the low voter turnout.

Electronic voting machines were used in May's elections for the first time in an attempt to eliminate electoral fraud.

Mr Al Salihi expressed concern over recent reports of violence near the northern city.

"We have called on the Iraqi security to deploy their forces to Kirkuk as the security situation remains unstable."

On Sunday, a car bomb killed one person in Kirkuk near a storage site housing ballot boxes, two days before the manual recount was due to begin.

Police said at least 20 people, mostly police officers stationed to protect the site, were injured.

The driver detonated the vehicle before reaching the entrance of the warehouse after officers guarding the facility opened fire, police sources said.

The deployed troops are preparing for a large military operation to eliminate the remaining ISIS sleeper cells who remains active in northern Iraq, carrying out sporadic ambushes, assassinations and bombings.