Iraq to investigate voting fraud allegations

Experts said the investigation could lead to local recounts.
Saturday 26/05/2018
Foul play? Workers of the Iraqi Independent High Electoral Commission move ballot boxes outside a warehouse in Baghdad, on May 18. (Reuters)
Foul play? Workers of the Iraqi Independent High Electoral Commission move ballot boxes outside a warehouse in Baghdad, on May 18. (Reuters)

LONDON - Iraqi authorities have begun an enquiry into parliamentary election voting after intelligence services said voting machines used were vulnerable to hacking.

The May 12 election delivered a shock win for populist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who faces a huge task to form a governing coalition despite winning the most seats in parliament.

However, with the results yet to be ratified by Iraq’s Supreme Court, a government official told parliament that tests by intelligence services indicated it was possible to hack voting machines and manipulate the results.

The cabinet established a commission “to study reports and information on the electoral process” and make recommendations, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in a televised address.

Limited recounts have been ordered in the flashpoint multi-ethnic province of Kirkuk, where authorities imposed an overnight curfew after clashes were reported.

The International Crisis Group (ICG) said it was “deeply concerned” about the possibility of ethnic violence there and called for a recount “to restore confidence in the institutions vital to manage deeper divisions over the contested, oil-rich area.”

“There were two striking incongruities: the [Patriotic Union of Kurdistan] won in several non-Kurdish areas where the party is not known to have any support and has never won significant numbers of votes in the past; and turnout in Kurdish areas was low compared both to past elections and to the participation rate in Turkmen neighbourhoods and camps for the internally displaced, where many of the governorate’s Arab population have been living during and after the struggle against the Islamic State,” the ICG report stated.

Although fraud claims have centred on the city of Kirkuk, there were reports of irregularities in several provinces.

Some candidates expressed concerns about voter intimidation and reports of chaotic distribution of ID cards, which they claim disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of people.

Following several days of complaints, including a call for an investigation by UN senior envoy to Iraq Jan Kubis, the country’s electoral commission said it had invalidated ballots from 103 polling stations in five provinces.

The investigatory committee, which will include advisers from the security and intelligence sectors, will have access to all documents pertaining to the electoral process, including from the electoral commission.

Experts said the investigation could lead to local recounts or even the entire vote being annulled, although the latter option is less likely.

“This might lead the country into chaos, so an alternative quick solution that might please all political parties might be to manually sort the ballot boxes of some polling stations,” Mustafa Saadoun, an Iraqi journalist and founder and director of the Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights, wrote in Al-Monitor.

Multiple candidates and parties are expected to appeal the results of Iraq’s first poll since the defeat of the Islamic State.

“While it is a truism that Iraqis disappointed in their results often imagine cheating rather than acknowledge their own failures to appeal to a broader electorate, there are enough anecdotal evidence and real questions about the system to merit investigation,” Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think-tank and a former Pentagon official, wrote in the Washington Examiner.

“The future confidence in Iraqi democracy is far more important than the inconvenience of a manual recount. The political jockeying can continue (a handful of seats may be in question, especially in Iraqi Kurdistan and perhaps with some of the Shia-dominated lists as well), but no future government will be fully legitimate in voter eyes if questions over the authenticity of results are swept under the rug,” Rubin added.

(The Arab Weekly staff and news agencies)