BAGHDAD (Reuters) – A recount of votes cast in the Iraqi capital during a national election in March will likely begin next week after electoral authorities sought clearer instructions on the tally, an official said on Monday.
The recount has delayed certification of the results of the vote, which produced no outright winner but gave a two-seat lead to a cross-sectarian alliance backed by minority Sunnis, with Shi’ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s bloc in second place.
A reversal of the rankings would anger Sunnis who dominated Iraq under Saddam Hussein and could inflame sectarian tensions that have only recently begun to subside after years of bloodshed unleashed after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
The independent electoral commission, or IHEC, asked the review panel that ordered the recount to explain exactly what it meant by a recount, said Waleed al-Zaydi, IHEC’s operations manager.
“We will start when we receive the explanation of the court. It is likely to be at the beginning of next week,” Zaydi said.
Iraqis had hoped the March 7 parliamentary vote would help the war-damaged country cement improved security and growing stability seven years after the invasion that toppled Saddam.
Instead, the lack of a clear result has spawned protracted political uncertainty as Shi’ite-led, Sunni-backed and Kurdish factions try to negotiate tie-ups that would allow them to gain a working majority and pick the next government.
The impasse has occurred as international oil firms are starting to invest in Iraq’s vast oilfields, launching the country on a path that could more than quadruple its oil output capacity to Saudi levels of 12 million barrels per day.
Maliki’s incumbent government has scored battlefield successes against Sunni Islamist groups in the past month, including the killings of al Qaeda’s two leaders in Iraq.
But insurgents continue to try to exploit the political vacuum in a bid to reignite sectarian slaughter and undermine the Shi’ite-led authorities. A series of car bombs planted in Shi’ite areas of Baghdad on Friday and in the Sunni heartland of Anbar in western Iraq killed at least 64 people.
In another potential threat to the electoral lead of former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi’s cross-sectarian alliance, which was heavily backed by Sunni voters, the election review panel on Monday was considering disqualifying some winning candidates.
The candidates are accused of illegal ties to Saddam’s outlawed Baath party. Most are members of Allawi’s Iraqiya list.
The panel could rule that the parliamentary seats won by the candidates should be retained by their political bloc — a decision that would have no impact on the election result.
But it could also rule that the votes cast for the banned candidates should be invalidated, potentially wiping out Iraqiya’s two-seat lead over Maliki’s State of Law coalition.