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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Iraqi parliament demands vote recount

The demand, backed by more than 170 MPs, would throw the outcome of the election into doubt

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

Iraq’s parliament on Wednesday ordered a manual recount of all votes from last month’s election and the formation of an election commission comprising of judges to oversee the process.

The demand, backed by more than 170 MPs attending the parliament session, called for the full recount of the physical election ballots after allegations of ballot stuffing and voter fraud emerged, even before polls closed.

The news, confirmed by parliamentary spokesman Abdel Malik Al Hussaini throws into question the formation of the new government after the surprise results which saw Moqtada Al Sadr’s Sairoun bloc emerge as the single largest party.

“The parliament voted today to suspend the nine-member Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) and will be replaced by judges to manage and administrate the elections process,” Mr Al Hussaini told The National.

“The vote has also overruled the use of electronic voting machines in future elections and has cancelled the votes of displaced and overseas individuals,” he said.

The session also voted for amendments to the election law which forces the IHEC to conduct a manual recount, after it had initially declined to do so.

Following several failed attempts because of a lack of the required quorum, 173 members of the outgoing 328-seat house passed a motion to hold a recount at all polling stations, covering almost 11 million votes, in response to charges of electoral fraud.

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Yet, members of the Sadrist movement decided to boycott the parliamentary session.

“We are confident that we won the election so there will be no big change for Sairoun’s results, but the problem is there will be some delay or some postponement in the formation of the government,” Dhia Al Asadi, close aide to Mr Al Sadr and head of the Ahrar block in parliament told The National.

But the decision was welcomed by many lawmakers, even those that had won seats in parliament.

“This is a great development, no one actually expected this amount of voter rigging and fraud to occur in the elections,” Jaber Al Jaber, an MP representing Anbar, who was present at the session told The National.

“It’s a legislation that’s supported by many, even those that have won seats in the elections participated in the vote,” Mr Al Jaber said, adding that “we are now counting on the committee to led Iraq through this crisis and towards forming a government”.

More than half of the nearly 24.5 million voters did not show up to the ballot box in the parliamentary election, the highest abstention rate since the first multi-party elections held in 2005.

Hoshyar Omar Ali, head of diplomatic relations for the Gorran Movement, told The National that the legislation is a "manifestation of the will of the people of Iraq and Kurdistan Region."

“In this election result of massive rigging and fraud was carried out and they came to light as soon as the initial results were announced. We rejected the results on day one and we have fully pushed for this legislation,” Mr Ali said.

Former MP Sami Al Askari, a close associate of vice-president Nouri Al Maliki whose State of Law coalition supported the vote, told The National that “The fraud benefited mainly the larger blocs.”

Mr Al Askari said that he believed it was also these larger blocs that boycotted today’s vote.

“Look at the session today, the Sadrists not there, parts of Badr not there, none of the Kurdish parties. Barzani’s KDP and the PUK– they both boycotted the session – it shows who benefits from the recount, and who had involvement in the fraud.”

The development follows the decision taken by Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi to ban some members of the country's electoral commission from travelling after “serious violations” were reported in the elections.

He said that a commission looking in to the alleged irregularities in the elections found "widespread manipulation" and faulted election authorities for "not taking the needed measures" to eliminate these issues.

Mr Al Abadi held the IHEC responsible for the reports of the allegations and called for criminal investigations.

However, the results of the election will not be impacted by anything the parliament has passed, experts say.

“The results for the key blocs which will form the core of the next government will not be impacted in any meaningful way,” Kirk Sowell, publisher of the biweekly newsletter Inside Iraqi Politics, told The National.

The Supreme Judicial Council said on Tuesday that the courts could not force the IHEC to conduct a manual recount because the law stipulated that electronic vote counting devices must be used. Yet a spokesman for the council said that was no longer an issue now that parliament had amended the law.