Iraqi prime minister confirms ‘dangerous violations’ in elections

The Iraqi prime minister banned members of the election commission from travelling outside the country.
Wednesday 06/06/2018
 Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi posing with a blank ballot at a poll station in the capital Baghdad's Karrada district, on May 12. (Iraq's Prime Minister's Media Office)
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi posing with a blank ballot at a poll station in the capital Baghdad's Karrada district, on May 12. (Iraq's Prime Minister's Media Office)

LONDON - Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said there were “dangerous violations” in the May 12 parliamentary election and banned members of the election commission from travelling, a move that could hinder forming a new government.

The election was won by a bloc led by cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, a long-time adversary of the United States who also opposes Iran’s sway in Iraq.

Abadi said a report presented to the government recommended a partial manual recount of the vote and the cancellation of results from overseas and displaced voters. He said most of the blame for violations lay with Iraq’s Independent High Elections Commission (IHEC).

Abadi said he had initially been in favour of moving forward with the political process after the election because Iraq has a history of electoral irregularities that were usually worked out.

“In the beginning I said: ‘Let’s keep going and let the commission deal with the violations.’ There are violations each election, here and there.”

However, he said he was alarmed after studying the report’s findings, which included “widespread manipulation” and faulted election authorities for “not taking the needed measures or taking wrong ones.”

“The committee has revealed dangerous things, honestly,” Abadi said. “Yes, there may have been some violations by candidates but the election commission bears the largest share of the responsibility.”

Abadi said the cabinet approved the recommendations of the committee, which was made up of the heads of five security and oversight agencies as well as the head of an anti-corruption agency. The recommendations include a manual recount of at least 5% of ballots and annulling votes from overseas and displaced voters.

High-ranking members of IHEC would be banned from travelling abroad without his permission, Abadi said. Criminal charges might be brought, although he did not say who might face those allegations.

Abadi said the main issue was with the electronic vote-counting devices used by IHEC, which he said had been used without prior inspection for errors.

Abadi’s stance raises the prospect of further uncertainty in Iraq when political blocs were involved in the complicated process of forming a new government.

Al-Sadr led two violent uprisings against US occupation troops after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, secured a surprise victory in the poll by tapping into resentment with government corruption and Tehran’s deep influence in Iraq, its most important Arab ally.

The elections, the fourth since the 2003 US-led invasion, saw low turnout reflecting widespread anger at the country’s political class. Al-Sadr’s supporters would have to form a coalition government in a process that could take months. Abadi’s bloc came in third, after a coalition of mostly Shia paramilitary forces.

The IHEC, which administered the vote, denied widespread irregularities and rejected calls for a manual recount or the cancellation of ballots.

It’s unclear whether the government can force it to take those measures. It’s also unclear whether doing so would change the outcome of the election. The winners of the election have begun talks on forming a new government.

(The Arab Weekly staff and news agencies)