Top Iraqi court endorses manual recount of all election ballots

The court’s ruling means that a parliament order to replace the IHEC with a panel of nine judges to supervise the recount will stand.
Sunday 24/06/2018
An Iraqi official carries a ballot box after a fire at a storage site in Baghdad, on June 10. (Reuters)
Under a cloud. An Iraqi official carries a ballot box after a fire at a storage site in Baghdad, on June 10. (Reuters)

LONDON - The Federal Supreme Court of Iraq upheld a law passed by parliament that mandated a manual recount of all ballots from May’s national elections after allegations of widespread voting fraud created a political crisis.

The ruling, which is not subject to appeal, endorsed parliament’s legislation for a recount as constitutional after Iraqi President Fuad Masum and the Independent High Elections Commission (IHEC) accused outgoing lawmakers of political interference in polls.

“The Federal Supreme Court of Iraq finds that parliament’s decision was to organise the electoral process and restore voter confidence in the electoral process. It was within parliament’s constitutional rights and does not contradict the constitution,” said Chief Justice Medhat al-Mahmoud.

The court said parliament was within its rights to legislate because its term had not expired.

Two-thirds of parliament’s current members will be replaced in the next legislative body. Many of those who lost their seats, including Speaker Salim al-Jabouri, blamed election fraud and irregularities.

The court’s ruling means that a parliament order to replace the IHEC with a panel of nine judges to supervise the recount will stand. The IHEC, which had rejected a recount when allegations of fraud first surfaced, denied any wrongdoing,

The court, however, rejected the mass invalidation of votes cast by expatriates, internally displaced people and members of the peshmerga.

“This cancellation… presents a squandering of votes and confiscation of the will of voters in these areas which violates constitutional articles that guarantee the right to equality and voting,” said Mahmoud.

This means all of the approximately 11 million ballots would have to be recounted. A vote recount is likely to give “70, 80 [or] 90%” accuracy of the original results, Ahmad al-Abadi, a lawyer representing parliament’s case to the supreme court, told the Associated Press.

Parties that made great gains in the elections wanted to begin the process of forming a coalition government without delay but will now have to wait for the recount and results ratified.

The electoral alliance backed by influential Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr secured the highest number of seats in parliament. In apparent bid to diffuse the election crisis, al-Sadr announced a political alliance with his campaign competitors, led by Iran-backed militia leader Hadi al-Amiri.

An al-Sadr-Amiri alliance raised concerns among Iraqis who object to Iranian influence in Iraq and to having irregular forces wandering the streets. One day before the court ruling, an armed clash between Iraqi police and the Iran-backed Hezbollah Brigades militia left three people wounded in Baghdad.

“The men in five vehicles opened fire and the police responded. Two policemen were wounded and one of the members of Hezbollah Brigades,” an Interior Ministry official told Agence-France Presse on condition of anonymity.

The Hezbollah Brigades are part of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), an umbrella for militias that was formed to fight the Islamic State (ISIS) in 2014. Outside its PMF uniform and against government orders, however, Hezbollah Brigades militiamen are fighting in Syria in support of the Assad regime.

The government had passed a law to integrate the PMF into the formal Iraqi security apparatus to control the militias but clashes and activities outside Iraqi borders seem to demonstrate how difficult that task is.

Separately, Iraq’s biggest tribe, the Shammar, appealed for weapons to defend itself against ISIS after several tribesmen were abducted and killed in the desert region of Wadi al-Safa in the predominately-Sunni Saladin province.

“We hold the security forces responsible for protecting civilians… failure to do so is a failure of duty,” Shammar leader Sheikh Abdallah Hmeidi Ajeel al-Yawar said in a statement.

“If the security forces are unable to control these areas inhabited by the Shammar and other tribes… the commander-in-chief (of the armed forces Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi) should open the door for volunteers to join the ranks of the army and form a brigade of sons of the region to protect themselves.”

Despite Iraq’s declaration of victory over ISIS last December, the militant group has continued to attack locations in desert areas.