Fraud allegations surface in Iraq election
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BAGHDAD -- As the first, incomplete results from Iraq's weekend election trickled in Thursday, a prominent opposition group supported mostly by Sunnis Muslims made fraud allegations that could taint the legitimacy of the outcome.
The partial tally from five of Iraq's 18 provinces showed the coalition headed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki taking the lead in two mostly Shiite Muslim southern provinces, Najaf and Babil, while the secular Iraqiya bloc led by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi was ahead in two mostly Sunni provinces of Diyala and Salahuddin. The main Kurdish alliance was winning comfortably in the Kurdish province of Irbil.
But with only between 17 percent and 30 percent of the votes counted in each of those provinces, the results from Sunday's balloting were inconclusive. No party is expected to win an outright majority, and whichever bloc forms the next government probably will have to do so in coalition with other parties.
The tight race makes an accurate vote count and distribution of seats in the 325-member legislature important.
Mr. Maliki is expected to do well in the nine Shiite provinces of the south, with Mr. Allawi dominating the vote in the four Sunni provinces of the north and center. The strength of Mr. Maliki's lead in Babil and Najaf suggested that his faction may be set to win the largest number of seats in parliament. But the vote in mixed Baghdad, which accounts for 68 seats, will be crucial in determining the eventual winner.
Plans to release preliminary nationwide results were delayed, election officials said, by a glitch that caused computers processing the ballots to crash on two or three occasions this week. Those delays have fed allegations of fraud that could undermine acceptance of the vote outcome, especially among Iraq's Sunni minority.
Senior officials in Mr. Allawi's Iraqiya bloc, comprised mostly of Sunnis and secularists, told a news conference that the election had been unfair from the outset because of the banning of hundreds of candidates, and that "violations" were continuing as the count proceeded.
The officials alleged that ballot boxes had been left behind at polling centers in Iraqiya strongholds so that they wouldn't be counted, and they showed reporters one of nine ballots marked for the Iraqiya slate that they said they had been found discarded in the yard of a school used as a polling center in the northern city of Kirkuk.
They also claimed that three vote counters had been fired after they were caught altering results being entered into the computerized tally system, and that a senior official in Mr. Maliki's coalition, Haidar Ebadi, had made an unauthorized visit Wednesday to the counting center. The officials acknowledged that they did not know how widespread the alleged fraud may be.
"The votes of Iraqiya are being thrown in the trash, and we don't know how much tampering is going on," said Adnan Janabi, one of the bloc's officials. "One or a million, we don't know. It's a doubt."
Faraj Haideri, head of the election commission, confirmed that three vote counters had been fired Wednesday, but said it was because they were found to be too slow. "We didn't do it because of fraud," he said.
Mr. Ebadi did visit the election commission headquarters, but he did not enter the area where votes were being counted, Mr. Haideri said.
An official with the United Nations, which is advising the election, acknowledged that the delay in releasing comprehensive results risked drawing allegations of malpractice, but said no significant fraud had been detected so far. "There's a lot of distrust anyway, but we don't see anything sinister or fraudulent or conspiratorial," the official said.
Ahmad Chalabi, a candidate with the Shiite Iraqi National Alliance, which appears to be trailing Mr. Maliki in the south, also expressed concerns about the transparency of the vote count, and visited the election commission headquarters to convey his concerns.
First Published March 12, 2010 12:00 am