Trailing in popular vote, Iraq's Maliki demands a recount

BAGHDAD — Iraq's electoral commission on Sunday rejected demands from Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki and President Jalal Talabani for a manual recount of ballots, saying there was no justification for further delaying results of the March 7 parliamentary polls.

Maliki, a conservative Shiite Muslim, demanded a recount in an ominously worded statement Saturday that said such a move would “preserve political stability” and prevent “the return of violence.” Talabani, a Kurd, followed with a statement Sunday that also demanded another tally, “to abolish any doubts or confusion.” The two politicians stressed that they were making the demands as Iraq’s top leaders, not as candidates.

Hassan al Sneid, a Maliki-allied legislator and associate of the prime minister, released a written warning that Maliki’s State of Law coalition “rejects results that do not come from a manual count.” About 300 Maliki supporters also took to the streets of the southern Shiite holy city of Najaf in a demonstration that could foreshadow more unrest in Iraq’s increasingly tense post-election period.

“The situation may well deteriorate into a state no unlike what happened in Iran,” said Haider al Musawi, a political analyst at an independent research center in Baghdad, referring to the months of riots, protests and mass arrests that followed the disputed elections in neighboring Iran.

“This would be catastrophic for the political process. Iraqis have started to believe that their votes could make a difference…” Musawi said. “If they see their votes turned around, God only knows where that would lead us – maybe to violence once again.”

With more than 90 percent of votes counted, Maliki’s State of Law coalition is neck and neck with the Iraqiya bloc led by the secular former premier Ayad Allawi. Maliki holds a slight lead in the number of legislative seats won per province – the factor that determines the winner – while Allawi is a few thousand ballots ahead in the popular vote, according to the commission’s figures. Final results are expected by the end of the week, election commissioners said.

The ballot-counting process has been fraught with allegations from all sides of fraud and manipulation, while the commission itself has struggled with handling the huge amount of data and attempts at political interference. The United Nations, along with Iraqi and international monitors, found no evidence so far of widespread fraud of the sort that would discredit the entire election.

McClatchy special correspondents Sahar Issa and Mohammed al Dulaimy in Baghdad, and Qassim Zein in Najaf contributed.

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