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Iraqi lawmakers approve manual ballot recount in May 12 vote

UPDATED: Wed., June 6, 2018

In this May 12, 2018  photo, an Iraqi woman shows her ink-stained finger after casting her vote in the country's parliamentary elections in Ramadi, Iraq. (Hadi Mizban / Associated Press)
In this May 12, 2018 photo, an Iraqi woman shows her ink-stained finger after casting her vote in the country's parliamentary elections in Ramadi, Iraq. (Hadi Mizban / Associated Press)
By Qassim Abdul-Zahra Associated Press

BAGHDAD – Iraq’s parliament voted on Wednesday in favor of a manual ballot recount after allegations of widespread fraud in the country’s recently held parliamentary elections, a lawmaker said, a development that could further prolong the process of forming a new government.

Hours later, a pair of explosions ripped through a mosque in a mostly Shiite district in Baghdad, killing at least seven worshippers, including two children. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the blasts.

Parliament member Mohammed Saadoun said lawmakers voted on the election bill, which in effect constitutes an amendment to the country’s election law and also includes cancellation of vote results from balloting abroad and in camps for displaced people in four Sunni-dominated provinces.

“This is meant to correct the election results and bring the political process in Iraq back on track after it was proven that fraud and manipulation of vote results took place,” he said.

Saadoun added that the only ballots that would not be recounted were the votes of minority ethnic groups. The four Sunni-dominated provinces where vote results from balloting in camps for people displaced during the recent war against the Islamic State group would be cancelled are Anbar, Diyala, Salahuddin and Ninevah.

He said it was unclear when the recount would start and that it would be up to the Supreme Judicial Council to decide on the timing. The council has also been asked to appoint nine judges to supervise the manual recount.

According to Saadoun, 173 lawmakers of the outgoing 328-seat parliament ordered the recount for votes from all polling stations – meaning almost 11 million ballots.

There have been complaints of irregularities in the May 12 balloting in which an electronic voting system was used for the first time. A manual recount of votes in some areas has been called for, a request that has been rejected by the Iraqi election commission as illegal.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said a separate commission looking into alleged irregularities in the vote found “unprecedented” violations.

Al-Abadi told his weekly press conference that the commission found “widespread manipulation” and faulted election authorities for “not taking the needed measures or taking wrong ones.”

He said the Cabinet approved the recommendations of the commission, which is made up of the heads of five security and oversight agencies as well as the head of an anti-corruption agency.

Last month’s elections – the fourth held since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion – saw low turnout, reflecting widespread anger at the country’s dysfunctional political class.

Supporters of the populist Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose forces once battled U.S. troops, emerged with the most seats, but would have to form a coalition government with other blocs in a process that could drag on for months. Al-Abadi’s bloc came in third, after a coalition of mostly Shiite paramilitary forces.

The blasts on Wednesday night struck in the Sadr City district, at a mosque frequented by supporters of al-Sadr. Along with the seven killed, at least 20 people were wounded, according to security officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media. The explosions also damaged several nearby houses.

Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission, which administered the May vote, has denied widespread irregularities and rejected past calls for a manual recount or the cancellation of ballots.

It’s unclear whether a recount would change the outcome of the election. The winners of the election have already begun talks on forming a new government.

Al-Abadi has also called for criminal investigations, and has banned election officials from traveling abroad without his approval.

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