Election Ruling in Iraq Favors Prime Minister
By STEVEN LEE MYERS and SAM DAGHER
Published: April 26, 2010
BAGHDAD — Seven weeks after Iraqis went to the polls, a special elections court disqualified a winning parliamentary candidate, most likely reversing the narrow defeat of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s alliance and possibly allowing him the first chance to form a new coalition government.
The court disqualified the candidate on charges that he was a loyalist of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party, and it left open the possibility of barring still more.
Moves by the court, if upheld on appeal, would erase the two-seat victory by a largely secular coalition led by Ayad Allawi, a Shiite who served as an interim prime minister after the American overthrow of Mr. Hussein.
At a minimum, it would further delay the formation of a new government through the months when the Obama administration planned to withdraw its combat troops, leaving a force of only 50,000 by September.
Iraqi officials now grimly predict that there might not be a new government in place by that deadline, putting the Obama administration in the difficult position of deciding whether to press ahead with its plans despite the political uncertainty here.
Mr. Allawi’s bloc won 91 seats in the country’s new 325-seat Parliament, compared with 89 for Mr. Maliki’s State of Law coalition, according to preliminary results announced a month ago that have now been cast in doubt.
The court also disqualified 51 other losing candidates; the votes they received will be discarded, requiring a recalculation of the winners — and losers — across the ballot. Under Iraq’s tortuous and untested election laws, that could cost Mr. Allawi’s bloc a second seat, while awarding seats to Mr. Maliki or other parties, officials said.
The director of a disputed commission charged with purging former Baath loyalists also disclosed on Monday that he had asked the court to bar eight more winning candidates. The court is expected to rule on those candidates, all with Mr. Allawi’s coalition, as soon as Tuesday.
The court’s moves strengthened Mr. Maliki’s bare-knuckled efforts to win a second term as prime minister. But that prospect is still by no means certain, since his government has faced new criticism following a series of bombings at Shiite mosques and neighborhoods on Friday.
The machinations over the results have also cast doubt on the ultimate fairness of an election that was seen as a test of Iraq’s nascent democracy and the United States’ ability to withdraw. The political impasse has revived sectarian tensions that are never far from the surface and has raised the specter of even more violence.
Mr. Allawi’s supporters, many of them Sunni Muslims, denounced the ruling and other moves since the March 7 election as an effort to undercut the voters’ will. Sunni anger over elections in 2005 fueled the insurgency that engulfed the country.
“It is tantamount to an assassination of the democratic process,” said Haidar al-Mulla, a winning candidate from Mr. Allawi’s alliance, known as Iraqiya.
Mr. Allawi’s coalition appealed to the United Nations and the United States to do more to stop what it called an electoral travesty.
The court’s ruling can be appealed, which would delay final results for at least another month, perhaps longer. Only a week ago, the same election panel ordered a partial recount of votes in the province that includes Baghdad.
That was supposed to have begun already, but the country’s election commission said Monday that the recount would be delayed as its commissioners sought clarification from the same court about how exactly to conduct it.
The convoluted challenges to the results, the dearth of public information and the weakness of Iraq’s state institutions have compounded confusion over the election’s outcome and the path to forming a government.
Many officials reacted with surprise after the court’s decision, relying on information — and misinformation — as word of it spread. The court, as usual, did not publicly release its ruling.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Hajim al-Hassani, a member of Mr. Maliki’s coalition. “It’s going to the federal court. It’s up to these institutions to resolve these questions.”
In disqualifying the candidates, the court ruled in favor of a parliamentary panel with disputed legal standing, the Accountability and Justice Commission. It first moved to bar candidates accused of having Baathist ties in January, knocking more than 500 off the ballot then in what was widely seen as a partisan and sectarian attack on Sunnis and Mr. Allawi’s coalition.
The commission’s director, Ali Faisal al-Lami, ran as a candidate with the other main Shiite coalition, but he failed to win a seat. Even after the voting was finished, the commission continued to accuse more candidates, even though its mandate from the exiting Parliament was in question.
The winning candidate disqualified Tuesday was Ibrahim al-Mutlaq. He ran on Iraqiya’s slate in Baghdad in the spot once filled by his brother, Saleh, after he was disqualified in January.
Ibrahim al-Mutlaq, who has lived in the United Arab Emirates for the past four years said he had been involved with his brother in agriculture during Mr. Hussein’s rule, leasing land from the government but never joining the Baath Party. He called the accusations that led to his disqualification “trumped-up charges” meant to protect “the gang that rules Iraq at the moment.”
Mr. Lami, who spent nearly a year in American custody on charges of planning a bombing that killed four Americans and six Iraqis at a district council meeting in Baghdad in 2008, again defended the commission’s campaign against those who once belonged to the Baath Party.
“Their participation in the elections was illegal,” he said, without explaining why the candidates were not disqualified in the first round before the election. “Their votes must be discarded.”
Mr. Hassani, of Mr. Maliki’s bloc, said that the exact number of seats each coalition wins was not significant, given that none won close to a majority.
“Whether Allawi is going to have 90 seats or 85, or we have 89 or 95, is not important,” he said. “Whoever is going to be able to form coalitions will form the government.”
Duraid Adnan, Yasmine Mousa and Zaid Thaker contributed reporting.