Leading article: A perilous electoral stalemate

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The protracted denouement of the Iraqi election makes our own election look like a fast-track version. Iraq went to vote on 7 March, but the final result may not be confirmed until well after the UK election count is complete. What, it might be asked, is taking so long?

The latest twist in the sorry saga of Iraq's 2010 parliamentary elections came yesterday, when the country's independent electoral commission went back to ask its judicial review panel for clarification about a recount. The panel had ordered a manual recount of the Baghdad area votes, after the accuracy of the electronic counting machines had been questioned. But the very existence of the panel, delegated by the electoral commission, testifies to the complexities involved. The clarification is likely to take another week, and only then will the Baghdad recount begin.

The many delays in certifying the results have understandably fuelled speculation about the integrity of the initial vote. By most accounts, however, the campaign, and the election itself, passed off relatively well. Participation was higher than in past Iraqi elections, and there was no boycott by Sunni voters. To this extent, the election represented progress and could be judged a success.

But that success brought problems of its own. The result, as initially recorded, produced a potentially dangerous stalemate – reflecting all too faithfully the ethnic and sectarian tensions that exploded into the open after the removal of Saddam Hussein. And the victor – with a majority of only two seats – was not, as had been expected, the alliance led by the incumbent prime minister, Nouri Maliki, but his main challenger, Iyad Allawi, at the head of the secular Iraqiyya list. That result was immediately rejected by Mr Maliki, and it is his complaint that has led to the recount.

The accuracy of the electronic count is one point of contention, and the one to be addressed by the recount. But another relates to certain Sunni candidates, whose eligibility has been called into question because of their alleged ties with the disbanded Baath Party. Two of them have just been barred from taking their seats and may or may not be replaced by candidates from the same Iraqiyya list, with further implications for the result.

None of this exactly fosters political stability as the August deadline for the US withdrawal approaches. The silver lining, if there is one, is that a non-sectarian alliance did so well, and that Iraq has not descended into more post-electoral mayhem than it has. The longer the uncertainty lasts, however, the more perilous it becomes.