Votes Slow To Tally In Iraq
JACKI LYDEN, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden. Scott Simon is away.
Six days have passed since Iraq's nationwide elections and there are still no real results. Last Sunday, about 62 percent of eligible voters defied threats of violence to cast a ballot - but that's about all we can say for certain. The Iraqi Electoral Commission has warned that even the preliminary results can take all week, but it's now clear they've been having technical problems and some politicians are charging fraud.
Here to give us the latest is NPR's Baghdad Bureau Chief Quil Lawrence. Hi there, Quil.
QUIL LAWRENCE: Hi, how are you, Jacki?
LYDEN: Well, once again, why are the results taking this long?
LAWRENCE: Well, there was some computer failure and entering these very complicated ballots - about 12 million of them. It's understandably tricky. But some politicians have taken this time, this lag time, to charge that there were serious irregularities. They said that they found ballots in the trash can. They charge that some of the officials at the Electoral Commission have been switching the numbers.
Several officials were dismissed in what Iraqi authorities said was an attempt to be impartial and show that they're being transparent. But that may have just confirmed some people's suspicions, well, why did you dismiss them if they weren't doing anything wrong?
But international observers, U.N. officials, are saying that there has been no material fraud in their opinion, nothing that would affect the outcome.
LYDEN: So, how are Iraqis reacting to this long wait and what are the politicians doing in the meantime?
LAWRENCE: It seems to kind of depend on who people voted for whether they said this wait is okay. I've talked to a lot of people who support sitting Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in the capital. They say they think it's going fine. Similar results in Basra. But up in Mosul, for example, it's a bit more worrisome. People are saying that they think there might be attempts at fraud during this delay, but they are still convinced that they'll win, meaning that they're Sunni supported list probably Ayad Allawi will win.
I can tell you right now that list is not going to win a majority. No one expects that to be the winner. So, it's a little bit disturbing to hear from the still the most troubled and violent part of the country saying they're confident they're going to win and it makes you wonder what they're going to say when the results do come out.
LYDEN: There have been results announced in a few provinces, including some partial results from parts of Baghdad. Anything to be concluded from these limited returns?
LAWRENCE: Those just came in this morning, the results from Baghdad, but we're still talking about 17, 18, under 20, under 30 percent from the few provinces we've heard from. I can tell you, we got a little NPR war room set up here with a whiteboard and all 18 provinces listed. And next to them is the number of seats they'll get. But our board is mostly blank. We just don't really have anything conclusive.
It looks like Prime Minister Maliki is going to be the largest single individual vote getter, but he probably won't be able to form a government without months of political horse trading, negotiating with some of the other parties who will still get 20 percent, 25 percent of the vote.
LYDEN: Quil, as you know, during the last national election it took Iraqis five months to hammer out a national unity government afterwards, and it looks like we might be in for a long wait once more. But this time it's also happening against the context of the U.S. troop withdrawals. Is there concern about a power vacuum?
LAWRENCE: A lot of people are mentioning that. They think it will take -the last time it took five months, as you mentioned. If you say five months from now, we're already into Ramadan, which is August. So, some people are saying it's going to be September before the government sits.
Now, if you have a caretaker government for that long, and especially the sitting prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, the caretaker prime minister has to take decisive action perhaps against some violence, some rise of militias, it might cause a crisis where people are saying this government is illegitimate but it's acting like it's declared martial law. People are worried about that.
And the U.S. has far less eyes on the ground. We saw that at a press conference with General Odierno, the commander of U.S. forces, here the other day where he was clearly relying on Iraqi assets to tell them what had happened in the violence on election day, not U.S. troops, 'cause they're just no longer out and about.
LYDEN: NPR's Quil Lawrence speaking to us from Baghdad. Thanks very much, Quil.
LAWRENCE: Thank you, Jacki.
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