President calls for recount in Iraqi election

Iraq's President yesterday called for a recount in this month's parliamentary elections, which have turned into a tight race between the Prime Minister and a secular rival amid accusations of fraud. The demand from President Jalal Talabani came a day after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki appeared to back the same idea.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's coalition is narrowly trailing in the overall vote tally to one led by former prime minister Ayad Allawi, with 95 percent of the vote counted. President Jalal Talabani, whose own coalition is losing to Allawi's secular alliance in a key province, invoked the power of his office in calling for a recount.

On his official Web site, Talabani demanded that the Independent High Electoral Commission manually recount the ballots to "preclude any doubt and misunderstanding" about the results. He said he was making the demand "as the president of the state, authorized to preserve the constitution and to ensure justice and absolute transparency."

Al-Maliki on Saturday called on the election commission to quickly respond to requests from political blocs for a recount.

The commission has rejected such calls, and Iraqi law empowers neither Talabani nor al-Maliki to force the issue. The panel is an independent body appointed by parliament, and submits its results only to the country's supreme court for ratification.

A recount or a protracted election dispute could complicate the seating of a new government. In Iraq's fledgling democracy, such periods of political instability have often been accompanied by violence, as debates not settled at the negotiating table are taken to the streets.

The process of counting ballots cast in the March 7 election has been criticized by some Iraqi politicians — often those losing at the time — as being plagued with fraud, though international observers have said the vote and count has been fair. Election officials have been handing out results in piecemeal fashion, creating the appearance of a tallying process in disarray.

The head of the election commission, Faraj al-Haidari, urged the political parties to be patient and scoffed at the idea that a manual recount would be any more accurate than the computerized count nearing completion.

"If you do not believe in the most advanced counting technologies, then how you are going to believe in an employee using pen and paper?" al-Haidari asked.

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