Counting Ballots From Iraqi Election Will Take Days

Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission says it will take at least three days to process all the ballots from Saturday's provincial elections and investigate any claims of election fraud.

Turnout for Iraq's first elections in four years wasn't huge — a little more than 50 percent nationwide, according to Iraqi election officials. There are reports that many eligible voters were left off registration lists and weren't able to vote. But there were no reports of major violence.

In years past, Najaf, the center of the Shiite religion and home to the shrine of Imam Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad, has been the target of deadly Sunni insurgent bombings. But that was hard to tell Saturday.

The voters came in a steady stream: men and women, young and old. But there seemed to be little excitement as they waited in line.

A woman who would only give her name as Umm Mohammed, or mother of Mohammed, was one of them. She drew her black abaya in front of her face as she expressed what seemed to be one of the common sentiments of the day.

"Well, I wish for security and stability," she said. "And then improvement in living conditions, better salaries and good housing — such things wished by all Iraqis."

Accusations Of Corruption

Security has dramatically improved in Iraq, as election day bore witness, although at least five candidates were assassinated during the campaign. Iraqis are deeply frustrated by their government over a lack of progress in providing basic services and a perception of massive corruption.

"The current government, all of them, are looters," said Shaheed Ramdan Al Fatlawi, 73, who wore traditional robes and a red checked headdress. "I'm not going to lie to you. All of them are thieves."

While reports of fraud on Election Day itself were few and far between, there have been accusations of parties buying votes ahead of time.

A taxi driver who gave his name as Haidar Abbas said one man approached him and many of his friends with an offer the other day: "He was telling us, if you vote for this person and he wins, we are going to give you 10 tons of cement."

Not your typical bribe, perhaps, but Abbas wasn't shy in admitting he happily took it, even though he knows nothing about the party that offered it to him. There are three people of voting age in his family, and he figures with 30 tons of cement, he can build a home.

In Iraq's south, the main competition is between two big Shiite parties: the Dawa party, led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and the more religious Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq. They are partners in the ruling coalition at the federal level, but they have run a fierce campaign against each other in the Shiite-dominated south.

One of the big issues between them is that the Supreme Council wants to form a "megaprovince" in the south — a region much like the Kurds have in the north. It would give the Supreme Council control over the oil fields in the south and deeply weaken the power of the federal government.

Worries About Tallying Votes

Inside a polling center on Saturday, IDs were checked and ballots were ripped out, stamped and handed to voters. The ballot was, to put it mildly, confusing, with dozens of parties and dozens of candidates in each party — and that was just in Najaf. In total, there were more than 14,000 candidates running for seats on Iraq's provincial councils.

After voting, people dipped their index fingers in the ubiquitous purple ink. In the room, half a dozen observers from the electoral commission and from many political parties watched the proceedings. They all said the process had gone smoothly so far, but the Supreme Council's Mujbel Ali said he's more worried about afterward, when the counting starts.

"At the end of the elections, there will be the process of sorting out, then counting the votes," he said. "At that time, there might be violations, so we have to keep an eye on the process."

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