An Iraqi court has thrown the nation’s disputed election into deeper disarray by disqualifying 52 candidates, including one winner, in a legal ruling that cast doubt on the slim lead of a Sunni-backed alliance over the prime minister’s political coalition.
The decision by the three-judge election court publicized on Monday intensified political turmoil and dealt a new setback to efforts to form a new government in Iraq nearly two months after the vote for a new 325-member parliament, which must select the next prime minister.
The maneuvering following the inconclusive vote has created a giant political vacuum and fears of new violence. It has also threatened to anger anew Sunni voters, who had thrown their support behind secular candidate Ayad Allawi’s bloc to give it a two-seat lead.
The winning candidate who would lose his seat was from Allawi’s Iraqiya coalition. Sunnis largely have spurned Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and their anger against the Shiite-led government in 2006 and 2007 was one of the key motivators for their bloody insurgency that only recently abated.
The court also is considering the fate of at least seven other winning Iraqiya candidates who are accused of having ties to former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein’s ousted Baath Party.
Iraqiya, which captured 91 parliamentary seats compared with 89 for al-Maliki’s State of Law alliance, promised to fight the ruling and call for a new poll if it is upheld.
“We will not accept such an unjust decision and we will not stand still to such illegal and illegitimate measures,” Allawi’s spokesman Abdul-Rahman al-Bayder said, adding that the court order “endangers the whole political process and democracy in Iraq.”
A member of the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC), Saad al-Rawi, cautioned it was still unclear if Monday’s decision would change the vote results. The banned candidates have a month to appeal the decision.
If upheld, Monday’s decision meant ballots cast for all 52 disqualified candidates would be voided, requiring a new tally. However, al-Rawi said most, including 22 from Iraqiya, received only limited support.
Al-Maliki has fiercely challenged the election results, successfully demanding a court-ordered ballot recount in Baghdad that could further complicate the process.
The electoral commission chief said the Baghdad recount would begin in a few days, although he criticized it as a political decision.
“We, as IHEC, consider the decision taken by the court to be incorrect,” a visibly exasperated Faraj al-Haidari said. “Now the other political blocs will also complain, ‘Why didn’t they respond to our complaints? Why did they just respond to the State of Law complaint?’”
He also rapped the order as unduely vague.
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