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Optimism fades as election results in Iraq are annulled

An Iraqi woman casts her vote at a polling station for the Iraqi parliamentary election in Sulaymaniyah, Iraq on May 12, 2018 [Feriq Fereç / Anadolu Agency]
An Iraqi woman casts her vote at a polling station for the Iraqi parliamentary election in Sulaymaniyah, Iraq on 12 May 2018 [Feriq Fereç / Anadolu Agency]

Celebrations that lit up Baghdad's Liberation Square on the eve of the country's parliamentary elections on 12 May have faded, replaced by the embers of old and new constitutional disputes that burn brightly. The air of cool optimism that supporters of the victorious Sairoon — Islamist-Sadrist alliance — felt, has blown over, exposing what analysts are describing as a post-election constitutional crisis.

In Baghdad the mood has been sombre while in northern territories public anger has forced to the surface allegations of voter fraud and corresponding actions against it.

Over the last month since results were announced, Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) received a barrage of complaints that resulted in the cancellation of votes cast by Iraqis at home and abroad, across 1,021 polling stations, IHEC member Saeed Al Kaki told the National. The annulment was adopted once strong evidence of flagrant violations was uncovered by a special IHEC committee. Further evidence can be easily found online, a space voters have been using to expose the violations they have lodged complaints against.

The ballots cast by Iraqi expatriates in Europe and the votes of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in four newly liberated governorates were cancelled en masse, provoking in some parts of Nineveh spontaneous protests against the watchdog's decision.

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The cancellation far from addresses the root of the problem or soothes public rage. It reinforces the view that from the onset elections were tainted by clientelism.

Turkmen front, headed by Arshad Al-Salihi has sought legal action, exhausting all open avenues. Complaints were lodged to the supreme court and extended to the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), levelled at the IHEC, accused of rigging citizens votes in disputed territories. In these areas, calls for a manual recount can be widely heard.

Iraqi premier Haider Al-Abadi, favoured by Washington, criticised the move to recount ten per cent of votes cast nationwide. A manual recount would be "incorrect" Al-Abadi said during his weekly televised press conference, urging for "alternative means for adjusting and correcting the final count". Representing the Wataniya (National) bloc, Ayad Allawi, whose bloc ranked sixth with 21 seats, underscored the IHEC's proven lack of ability in administering the voting procedure and failure to protect voting stations.

A handful of politicians welcomed the annulment, but in the absence of parliamentary quorum some have described the move as unconstitutional as Iraqi President Fuad Masum iterated. Others were more keen to protect the lead they had secured, and therefore backed the move to preserve political party interests. Masum called for appeals to be investigated with neurosurgical precision, hoping to preserve the rights of candidates but fell quiet on the rights of citizens that cast ballots.

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The outgoing parliament has repeatedly warned about the dangers of a manual recount. Still, the abstinence of an estimated 60 to 70 per cent of eligible voters delivered a stronger message.

Opting out of elections was a move adopted in ten of the 19 provinces by millions, having accepted the painful facts of voter fraud and sabotage displayed in previous election cycles. The fall out over election results may protract into a constitutional crisis and could result in a revote if discrepancies between manually and electronically counted numbers "exceed 25 per cent" Rudaw TV warned.

A related matter threatening constitutional crisis further is the ability of winning coalitions to form a broad-based political system that can turn Iraq's political fate around.

If unaddressed, both matters will impair the legitimacy and repute of the new incoming government.

The political race to fix these issues is in full swing but the optimism felt early on has been shattered by the recurrent reality of voter fraud and uncertainty.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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