BAGHDAD, (AP) – Iraq’s electoral commission affirmed on Sunday the narrow victory of a Sunni-backed bloc in the March vote after a partial recount undercut the Shiite prime minister’s claims of fraud in the tally.
The result was a setback for Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who came in second to former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi by a small margin. But his alliance with another Shiite bloc still gives him a strong chance of holding on to power for another four years.
“I hope that all political blocs are satisfied now that the electoral process was honest and all allegations of fraud and forgery were totally incorrect,” electoral commission spokesman Qassim al-Abboudi told reporters after the results of a recount of votes for the capital Baghdad were announced.
“According to the law, political blocks and candidates can appeal these results but we hope that no one will do that,” al-Abboudi said.
The recount as well as other challenges to the March 7 election result have prevented the seating of the new 325-member parliament and raised fears that the extended period of political bickering will give rise to a new wave of violence as insurgents try to exploit the political vacuum as U.S. troops prepare to go home.
Hadi Jalo, a political analyst in Baghdad, said al-Maliki’s goal in demanding the recount was not to change the total, but to stall so he could work out an agreement with his Shiite allies to stay in power and sideline Allawi.
“Al-Maliki wanted more time to strengthen his coalition with the Iraqi National Alliance and also to distract Allawi and limit his movements toward other blocs,” Jalo said.
Al-Maliki’s State of Law alliance lost the election, taking home 89 seats to 91 for the bloc headed by Allawi, a secular Shiite supported by the country’s minority Sunni community. But neither coalition won the 163 seats required to govern outright.
Baghdad province accounts for so many parliament seats that a significant change in the vote tally could have tilted the overall results in al-Maliki’s favor.
Though the results were a setback for al-Maliki, they did not hand Allawi the mandate to form the next government. Instead, al-Maliki now appears to be in an even better position than he was roughly two weeks ago when the recount began.
His coalition hammered out an agreement with another Shiite bloc, the Iranian-backed Iraqi National Alliance. Together, the two are only four seats short of needed majority.
If the already-bickering coalition holds together, it is almost certain to form the next government, possibly cutting out Allawi’s list altogether and fueling Shiite anger that could lead to more sectarian violence.
The prime minister’s coalition appeared Sunday to be weighing its next move. A State of Law spokesman, Khalid al-Assadi, said the bloc was considering whether to appeal.
But government spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh of al-Maliki’s State of Law, said on Al-Arabiyah TV that they would accept the results “for the sake of starting the formation of the government.”
Allawi’s coalition welcomed the recount.
“We are happy with the results that are compatible to the previous ones,” said Maysoun al-Damlouji, a spokeswoman for the Allawi’s bloc.
The election results must still be ratified by the Supreme Court and other challenges that have delayed the formation of a new government also need to be resolved.
The fact that more than two months have passed without even an agreed upon result of the election, let alone a new government, has raised fears political tensions will spill over into violence.
In the roughly six months it took to seat a government following the December 2005 election, sectarian violence exploded.