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Iraqi Court Ruling May Change Election Outcome

An Iraqi court disqualified 52 candidates Monday from the country's parliamentary elections, including two who won seats, and threw out their votes in a decision that could potentially change the outcome of the March 7 vote.

At least one of the winning candidates came from the coalition of secular challenger Ayad Allawi, which won 91 seats compared with 89 seats for a bloc led by incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, said Saad al-Rawi, a member of the independent commission that oversees Iraq's elections.

He said a special court tasked with reviewing election-related complaints informed the commission of its decision Monday.

However, al-Rawi said it was still unclear how the decision would affect the outcome until the commission is able to recalculate the results once those votes have been removed. He said he did not expect the decision to affect the position of Allawi's Iraqiya bloc because the barred candidates from his coalition only won a limited number of votes.

"The new process will be complicated because we need to do calculations again in order to decide whether this court decision will have an effect on the distribution of seats within the bloc," al-Rawi said.

He said if the new calculations show the coalitions still have the votes to hold onto all their seats, then they can replace barred candidates with the next one on their list who received the most votes.

The court was acting on a request by a controversial, Shiite-dominated committee that vets candidates for ties to Saddam Hussein's regime.

One of the barred candidates, Ibrahim al-Mutlaq of Allawi's Iraqiya coalition, called the court's ruling a political move to weaken their alliance.

"The aim is to allow al-Maliki's list to be in the lead," he told The Associated Press by telephone from the United Arab Emirates. "I was elected by the people who gave me their trust and this decision ignores and disrespects the will of the people who voted for me."

The 52 disqualified candidates now have a month to appeal the decision by the de-Baathification committee, known as the Accountability and Justice Committee.

The same court that backed the ban on the candidates also approved the prime minister's request for a recount of the Baghdad province votes — a decision that the head of the independent election commission told the AP also smacks of politics.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Independent High Electoral Commission chief Faraj al-Haidari said the recount was only requested — and granted — after the prime minister's State of Law coalition failed to win the most seats.

He said the demand for a recount was "just some kind of a political demonstration."

"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?"' said a visibly exasperated al-Haidari.

"We, as IHEC, consider the decision taken by the court to be incorrect," he said.

Iraq's election law allows for all parties to appeal the election results, even after each recount, meaning the process could drag out for months. Asked at what point the appeals would have to end, al-Haidari said: "Don't ask me."

So far, the court has rejected 140 complaints from political coalitions seeking a review of results and has only granted a recount in Baghdad, al-Haidari said.

It is still considering requests from the Kurdish political alliance for a recount in parts of the northern Tamim and Ninevah provinces that are disputed with the Sunni Arabs.

The Baghdad recount likely will begin in a few days, al-Haidari said, adding that he is confident it will prove the accuracy of the vote results as currently tallied. He said he would quit if he is ultimately ordered to scrap the entire election and hold a new one, as some politicians have suggested.

"I cannot do a better election than this," al-Haidari said. "This is politics. You have an election, and someone loses and someone wins. I cannot do an election where everybody wins."

This program aired on April 26, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

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