Allegations of fraud ricocheted around Iraq’s vote counting as results from Sunday's parliamentary elections began to trickle in on Thursday.
Initial results from four of Iraq’s 18 provinces showed Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition leading in the Shiite Arab majority south with former prime minister Iyad Allawi holding a lead in two areas north of Baghdad.
The results, though, were based on less than a third of the ballots counted in each of the provinces – in some cases fewer than 120,000 votes. The majority of observers believe the race will be too close to call without a significant number of votes being counted in Baghdad.
Close race between Maliki, Allawi
Preliminary results are expected to continue to trickle in over the next two to three days with final results, including ballots from out-of-country and military voting, certified by the end of March. But most projections show Maliki’s largely Shiite coalition in a very close race with Allawi, a secular Shiite.
Maliki, who has ruled for most of the past four years, appeared to be making a strong showing in the south against the Shiite religious coalition he broke away from to form his own political bloc. The early results released by the Iraqi High Electoral Commission showed Maliki leading in the mainly Shiite provinces of Najaf and Babel south of Baghdad.
Allawi, with a broad coalition of mostly secular Shiites and Sunnis, has appealed to a large percentage of Iraqi voters disillusioned with religious parties who have been unable to deliver basic services or crack down on corruption. As of Thursday, Allawi’s Iraqiya list was leading in Diyala, northeast of Baghdad, and the Sunni Arab dominated province of Salahaddin, which includes former dictator Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit.
No single bloc is large enough to win a majority in the 325-seat parliament. Building a coalition government is expected to take weeks.
Allegations of fraud
The country’s first parliamentary election since the US military pulled back from Iraq's cities went relatively smoothly on Sunday despite scattered attacks which killed more than 30 people. But the vote-counting has been overshadowed by allegations of fraud on the part of each of the major challengers and by the disqualification of dozens of candidates for alleged Baathist ties by a controversial commission headed by Ahmed Chalabi.
Chalabi, himself a candidate, was one of the first to raise accusations of electoral fraud, demanding that election officials allow parties to publicly double-check the vote count.
As the results rolled in, Allawi’s Iraqiya list held a press conference displaying what it said were filled ballots it had found discarded and photos of ballot boxes full of uncounted voting papers.
“We don’t know how many papers were thrown out – was it five or 5,000? That’s why we are not confident about the results of these elections,” candidate Adnan al-Janabi told reporters.
Another Iraqiya candidate, Ambassador Rend Rahim, said irregularities at the election center had delayed the announcement of the results that had been expected as early as Wednesday.
“They were supposed to give some of the results yesterday but because of the irregularities that happened they had to stop the process of data entry for several hours,” she said.
International observers have generally said that while there appeared to be scattered incidents of fraud and voter intimidation, it was not believed to have been widespread enough to have a significant effect on the overall results.