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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 October 2018

Iraq supreme court orders manual recount of election ballots 

Court rules against cancelling ballots cast overseas and from displacement camps after a vote marred by fraud allegations

Employees of the Iraqi Independent High Electoral Commission inspect ballot boxes at a warehouse in Najaf, Iraq May 15, 2018. Alaa Al Marjani/Reuters 
Employees of the Iraqi Independent High Electoral Commission inspect ballot boxes at a warehouse in Najaf, Iraq May 15, 2018. Alaa Al Marjani/Reuters 

Iraq’s top court has backed parliament’s vote for a manual recount in last month’s parliamentary election, following complaints of voter fraud.

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

“The decision to order a manual recount in response to allegations of electoral fraud does not violate the constitution,” the head of the court, Medhat Al Mahmoud, told reporters on Thursday.

Attending legislators cheered as Chief Justice Al Mahmoud read out the verdict.

But the court rejected parliament's call to annul votes cast by Iraqis overseas, in displacement camps or by members of Kurdish security forces, ruling it unconstitutional.

Chief Justice Al Mahmoud said the sweeping measure was unjust to voters whose ballots were shown to be legitimate.

Various political parties have made allegations of ballot stuffing after a low voter turnout of less than 45 per cent.

“The court proved that it is neutral and is not aligned with any political parties,” Jaber Al Jaberi, an MP representing Anbar province, told The National.

“There is a positive public response, people now know that there are indeed legislations that can protect their rights,” said Mr Al Jaberi. He said he believed the elections were rigged.

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No date has been set for the recount, which will be supervised by judges who have taken over the Independent High Electoral Commission — another demand passed by parliament earlier this month.

However, Ammar Toma, an MP from the Fadhila party, told The National that the recount would take between a month and 45 days.

“This period is not relatively long compared to our other experiences,” Mr Toma said.

He said parliament’s demand of a nationwide recount was wrong.

“If there are concerns with integrity in certain areas then we should recount in those areas. Of course there was manipulation in previous elections but this time we were using electronic voting for the first time,” he said.

Votes were counted using an electronic system that was meant to prevent fraud but is now being blamed for irregularities.

"Every day there are new details of how the ballots were rigged," said Hashim Al Habouby, deputy secretary general of the Iraqi National Accord bloc led by Vice President Ayyad Allawi.

"We’re aiming for re-elections," Mr Al Habouby told The National.

The supreme court was asked to rule on parliament's electoral law amendment after it was challenged by Iraq's president, the election commission chief, and a Kurdish party. Its decision is final.

"I was expecting bad results but not the huge scale of misconduct and rigging in such an exposed way. The results were painful to all Iraqi people. Politicians used corrupt money to buy votes and sell them among each other," Hamed Al Mutleg, an MP representing the Iraqi National Accord told The National.

"They were not the elections that the Iraqi people wished for."

A warehouse storing ballots from eastern Baghdad caught fire days after parliament endorsed a recount. Outgoing parliamentary speaker Salim Al Jubouri alleged that the fire was lit deliberately to destroy evidence of fraud.

An interior ministry spokesman said the ballots were safe, contradicting eyewitness reports that many were burnt.

The situation in Baghdad was tense on Thursday, with many people leaving work before noon to avoid being in public areas when the court announced its decision.

“We are hoping for the best, because now people are aware that the situation we had was caused by politicians," said Baghdad resident Sinad Hassan. "We were the ultimate losers.”

But some residents of the capital believe the supreme court's decision will not lead to any changes.

“We have no rule in Iraq, we just live our days without deciding. We are led by a company of thieves,” said Mohmoud Ibrahim, a 33-year-old doctor.

The May 12 parliamentary election has been followed by weeks of rancour over alleged vote irregularities. The ballot delivered a surprise win for allies of Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr, but no single bloc won an outright majority.

Talks on forming a governing coalition are under way but could drag on for months.

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