Iraqi president demands election recount

Iraq’s president on Sunday called
for a recount in this month’s parliamentary elections, which have turned into a
tight race between the prime minister and a secular rival amid accusations of
fraud. A new count could further extend political wrangling in the contentious
race.

The demand from President Jalal
Talabani came a day after Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki appeared to back
the idea by calling on the election commission overseeing the counting to
quickly respond to requests from political blocs for a recount.

The demands are the latest twist to
an election that will determine who will govern the country as U.S. troops go
home. Counting since the March 7 vote has been slow and plagued with confusion
and disarray, fueling claims of fraud, though international observers have said
the vote and count have been fair.

Talabani, in a statement on his
website Sunday, demanded an immediate recount to “preclude any doubt and
misunderstanding” in the results.

“As the president of the
state, authorized to preserve the constitution and to ensure justice and absolute
transparency, I demand the Independent High Electoral Commission recount the
ballots manually starting from Sunday, March 21,” Talabani said.

Maliki, whose bloc is among those
seeking a recount, issued a statement late Saturday calling on the commission
to respond to the demands, saying that doing so quickly would “protect the
democratic experiment and maintain the credibility of elections.”

“Because there are demands
from many political blocs to repeat the counting,” Maliki said, the election
commission should “respond urgently to these demands in order to preserve
the political stability and avoid the deterioration of security … and a
return to violence.”

It remained unclear what the
demands by Talabani and Maliki would produce, since the electoral commission is
an independent body appointed by parliament. Also, election results have to be
certified by the Supreme Court after all complaints have been reviewed.

The latest partial results,
released Saturday, showed Maliki’s secular Shiite challenger, former Prime
Minister Ayad Allawi, leading by a slim margin over the prime minister’s
coalition in the overall tally.

However, Maliki is winning in seven
of Iraq’s 18 provinces, which is significant because parliament seats are
allotted based on the outcome of voting in each province.

Both Allawi’s Iraqiya list and
Maliki’s State of Law coalition have alleged fraud in the counting — though
many blocs’ claims have sometimes appeared to reflect how well they are doing
in the tally.

Maysoun Damlouji, a spokeswoman for
Allawi’s bloc, said neither Maliki nor Talabani have the authority to order a
recount. She urged the prime minister “not to use his influence to
change” the election results.

“There are well-known, legal
ways to appeal election results,” she said. “I hope that all will
accept the election outcome in a spirit of good sportsmanship.”

This is the first time Talabani, a
Kurd, has weighed in on the counting process. His party, the Patriotic Union of
Kurdistan, has been under heavy pressure from a new political party on the
Kurdish scene, Gorran, which has been making inroads in the Kurdish province
Sulamaniyah. That province has been considered the PUK’s stronghold.

Moreover, results so far have shown
that the Kurdish Alliance, composed of the PUK and the other main Kurdish
political party, is narrowly losing to Iraqiya in Tamim province in the north.
The province is home to the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, which is claimed by both
Arabs and Kurds. A win for Iraqiya would be a blow for Kurdish claims on the
city.

Maliki’s bloc earlier this month
accused the electoral commission’s counting center of doctoring the numbers and
demanded a recount.

The calls for a recount appear to
be stirring tensions. In the city of Najaf in Iraq’s Shiite-dominated south,
hundreds of residents protested outside the local government office to demand a
manual recount of the elections. They carried banners saying “No to
stealing our votes.”

The rally was taking place as
several governors from the southern provinces were meeting inside the building.

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