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Decision Before Iraq Vote May Complicate Result

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Decision Before Iraq Vote May Complicate Result

Post  Shilo on Sat Mar 27, 2010 12:05 pm

March 27, 2010

BAGHDAD - Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s party lost the Iraqi election, but a day after the results were announced it became clear that he would fight to hold on to his post — even before the outcome was declared.

On Thursday, a day before the results were announced, he quietly persuaded the Iraqi supreme court to issue a ruling that potentially allows him to choose the new government instead of awarding that right to the winner of the election, the former interim prime minister Ayad Allawi.

On another front, officials in charge of purging the government of former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party said Saturday that they still expected to disqualify 50 political candidates, many of them members of Mr. Allawi’s Iraqiya Party. That could strip Mr. Allawi of his narrow plurality, 91 parliamentary seats compared with 89 for Mr. Maliki’s State of Law party.

And if all that does not work, the prime minister still is clamoring for a recount, and he said he planned to file a legal appeal even though the United Nations, the elections commission and international observers have declared the election valid. Ultimately, the same Supreme Federal Court, which is nominally independent but has proved friendly to Mr. Maliki in the past, will decide the recount issue.

“They’re still going to take advantage of all the means at their disposal to eke out a victory,” said Gary A. Grappo, the top political officer in the United States Embassy here, referring to Mr. Maliki and his supporters. “They’re all politicians.”

Minutes after the United Nations and the Independent High Electoral Commission announced the results on Friday, Mr. Maliki went on television to counterattack, and he pulled few punches. Referring to members of Parliament elected on Mr. Allawi’s list, he said, “Some of them are terrorists held in Iraqi prisons.”

Mr. Grappo said that United States officials had no knowledge backing that claim.

Mr. Maliki also vowed to fight back.

“No way we will accept the results,” he said. Strong language like that, as well as his statements a week earlier that, as commander in chief, he had a responsibility to make sure that election fraud did not occur, led many to worry that the prime minister might forcibly hold onto power, or even stage a coup.

“As the commander in chief of the armed forces I call I.H.E.C. to respond immediately” to requests for a recount, Mr. Maliki said last Sunday.

American officials said they were confident that Mr. Maliki would behave lawfully.

“He made clear in his statement that he will work within the Constitution and within the rule of law,” Mr. Grappo said. “We will be watching very closely as the whole process unfolds.”

Mr. Allawi, a secular Shiite, put together a coalition that included many Sunni parties, and his list won heavily in their parts of the country. Mr. Maliki, whose Dawa Party broke with other Shiite religious parties, ended up splitting the vote of the Shiites, who make up 60 percent of the population.

Neither candidate, however, won anywhere near the 163 spots needed for a majority in Parliament. In the days leading to the announcement of results of the March 7 poll, it was widely assumed that the candidate who won the most seats would be given the advantage of the first attempt at forming a government, and be given 30 days to do so.

However, on Thursday, the day before the results were announced, the prime minister’s office asked the Supreme Federal Court for “a definition of the term, ‘the parliamentary bloc with the most members’ ” in Article 76 of the Iraqi Constitution. The court issued its 211-word decision speedily — and in Mr. Maliki’s favor — but it did not become publicly known until late on Friday. With little explanation of its rationale, the court ruled that the leader of the bloc with the most followers once Parliament convenes — probably in June — would be the one who forms a government.

That gives both candidates until June to maneuver to win over candidates from other alliances; winning candidates are free to switch parties at will.

“We are in the process of forming a sufficient coalition to form a government, and we have a lot of people who want to join us,” Mr. Maliki said Friday night. “If some blocs that exist within the Iraqiya list wanted to come, we would welcome them.”

Mr. Allawi responded similarly at a news conference on Saturday. “The Iraqiya list is open to all slates, starting with the State of Law list and the Iraqi National Alliance and the Kurdistan Alliance,” he said. He ruled out, however, making an alliance with Mr. Maliki himself, only with members of his State of Law party.

Legal experts have said the court’s interpretation of Article 76 is binding.

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