Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Iraqi Court Ratifies Election Results

By ANTHONY SHADID New York Times BAGHDAD — After weeks of political wrangling and legal challenges, Iraq’s highest court on Tuesday ratified the results of landmark parliamentary elections, removing a major obstacle to seating a new Parliament but leaving many frustrated that it had taken so long. The announcement by the chief judge, Midhat al-Mahmoud, represented a crucial step forward after nearly three months of setbacks and turmoil that heightened the sense of crisis here and stoked popular anger. With the results official, the country’s various factions are now expected to begin negotiations in earnest over a coalition government that will preside over the country as the American military completes its withdrawal. In reality, though, the step does not necessarily bring deeply divided politicians any closer to naming that government. Officials say it could still be months away, perhaps even into the fall. And some politicians were rueful in greeting Judge Mahmoud’s announcement. Essentially, the results ratified by the court were, in numbers at least, the same as preliminary results announced after the March 7 vote and before a flurry of legal appeals, an assassination, candidates’ disqualifications and vote recounts. “I don’t think it was worth the wait,” said Haidar al-Mulla, a winning candidate for a slate led by Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite and former interim prime minister. Under Iraq’s Constitution, Parliament must be seated within 15 days of the court’s ratifying the results. But Jalal Talabani, Iraq’s president, said in an interview that he would seat Parliament as soon as two days after the announcement. The law then stipulates that Parliament will choose a new president, who will name a prime minister. But everyone here expects a package deal, hence the period needed to negotiate everything from Parliament speaker to minister of youth and sports. “There are still long months ahead,” said Ghassan Attiya, an Iraqi analyst. No one coalition won a majority in the parliamentary vote, making the task of forming that government even more arduous. Mr. Allawi’s slate won the highest number of seats, at 91. But an alliance led by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki came in a close second with 89 seats. Since the vote, he has entered into a coalition with a rival Shiite Muslim slate, and together the two blocs are just four seats short of an outright majority. Mr. Allawi has insisted that, as the top vote-getter, his candidate list still has the right try to form a government after the 325-member Parliament is seated. But Mr. Maliki’s new coalition has a court ruling on its side, a point Judge Mahmoud underlined again on Tuesday, and it seems almost assured of taking the lead in choosing the next prime minister. Therein lies the next dispute. Mr. Maliki insists that he return to power, though his new allies have opposed his candidacy. In particular, the followers of Moktada al-Sadr, a populist and influential Shiite cleric, have said Mr. Maliki’s return to power is not an option. Sensing the discord, Mr. Allawi and his bloc have continued to try to negotiate a separate deal with Mr. Sadr and other factions in the smaller Shiite slate. Even if Mr. Maliki does hold on to power, many Shiite politicians believe there will be an attempt to circumscribe his authority and give greater power to his cabinet. For weeks, the crisis over the results seemed to be ebbing somewhat, as challenges were resolved through court rulings, political compromises and compromises fashioned as rulings. The United States Embassy welcomed Tuesday’s announcement, but aware of the anger over the talks’ glacial pace, it appealed to politicians to move forward quickly. Politicians, seemingly with varying degrees of sincerity, said the same. “It is important now to start serious and real talks between the political blocs to form the government,” said Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish lawmaker. “If any more delays happen, the responsibility will fall on the political blocs.” Before the March election, most politicians had expected the negotiations over a new government to drag on for weeks, and probably longer. But no one quite predicted the intensity of the dispute over the results themselves. Mr. Maliki’s slate demanded a recount after finishing narrowly behind Mr. Allawi’s. A partial recount left those results largely unchanged. A committee of dubious legal standing disqualified candidates for ties to the Baath Party of former President Saddam Hussein. Only after a shadowy deal did an appeals court overrule the decisions. Last month, a candidate in Mosul, Bashar Mohammed Hamid, was assassinated, and last week, even more challenges were filed. As a way to move forward, the court left the status of two candidates pending. The fate of another candidate, Ibrahim al-Mutlak, who won a seat in Baghdad, was also finally resolved. He had replaced his brother, Saleh, a leading Sunni politician disqualified in January. Then Mr. Mutlak himself was disqualified, and his slate replaced him. The judge said Mr. Mutlak would take his seat after all. Reached by telephone Tuesday in Dubai, Mr. Mutlak had yet to hear the news. “The Iraqi judiciary has proved its independence,” he said, satisfied.

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