An Iraqi electoral official said Wednesday that a court-ordered recount of Baghdad votes from last month's inconclusive election could begin as early as next week, a process that could take away the narrow lead of election winner Ayad Allawi over the current prime minister.
A court ruled Monday in favor of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's demand for a recount of 2.5 million votes in Baghdad, handing the incumbent a small victory in his quest to change through the courts the results of the March 7 election for a new, 325-seat legislature.
Neither al-Maliki's State of Law coalition or Iraqiya, his challenger Allawi's bloc, has won enough seats to form a government. Both have been searching for coalition partners since last month's election to obtain a parliamentary majority.
Allawi said Tuesday that he supports the recount, but that his coalition feared "the process of the recount could lead to a change in the results for the benefit of a specific group." This was an implicit reference to al-Maliki's bloc.
Election commissioner Sardar Abdul-Karim told The Associated Press the commission was currently drawing up plans for how the recount process would be conducted, and expected to submit its report in the next two days. "We don't know yet when we will start, but we are planning to start the recount as early as next week."
The recount will take place in Baghdad, but it was not clear how long it would take, he said. His office would do whatever it could to "have the process finished in a short period of time."
Al-Maliki's coalition estimates it was cheated out of up to 15 seats. It claimed that its own investigation into the results in the five provinces of Baghdad, Basra, Qadisiyah, Anbar and Ninevah has thrown into question some 750,000 votes and asked for a recount in these provinces.
Commission's spokesman, Qassim al-Aboudi, said the court had rejected the recount requests in the other four provinces and his commission had been informed officially of the tribunal's decision.
Allawi has meanwhile said he was still waiting for a ruling on his own coalition's request for recounts in the provinces of Najaf, Basra, Diwaniyah and Ninevah.
Al-Aboudi said the commission has not received anything yet from the court on Allawi's request.
Allawi said he could not say what his party's reaction would be if the Baghdad recount favored al-Maliki until he sees how it is conducted and what is decided for the other provinces.
"Let's see first how the process will be handled in regard to its transparency and we also need to know what's the court decision about our complaints and contests," he said.
There was a total of 70 seats up for grabs from Baghdad in the March 7 election. Al-Maliki's State of Law won 26 and Iraqiya took 24.