Astrologist Fills In Iraq's Election Results Void

Only about 30 percent of votes are counted from last week's parliamentary elections in Iraq. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki holds a strong lead from declared results in Baghdad. But there are no results yet from the next two biggest cities: Mosul and Basra. One popular TV astrologist says he has done complete astrological charts for several candidates.

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Election officials in Baghdad warned it might take weeks to certify the results. But most Iraqis expected that eight days after the national elections, they would have some idea of who was winning. Instead, with only about 30 percent of the ballots counted, Iraqis are still waiting. In an attempt to tell the political fortunes of the next government, NPR's Quil Lawrence turned to an Iraqi fortune teller.

QUIL LAWRENCE: Iraqi voters come to their young democracy informed by centuries of plots, coups and intrigues. Their skepticism about the process is more than healthy, and the delay in the results isn't helping.

Mr. ALI JASAM(ph): (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: All of the ballot boxes were switched, says Ali Jasam, a 31-year-old driver in Baghdad. He supports former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite nationalist who's believed to have the backing of most of Iraq's Sunnis. But Jasam says he voted for sitting Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki because he was sure the election was rigged, and he wanted to vote for the winner.

Delays allow the candidates the opportunity to cry foul, and conspiracy theories abound. With little real data, the political prognosticators in Iraq sound a bit like astrologists, and vice versa.

(Soundbite of music)

LAWRENCE: Ali al-Bakri�has a very popular call-in astrology show on the Iraqiya TV network, based in Baghdad. Bakri is a lean, olive-skinned man with a single, slightly mystical, gray curl in his brown hair.

(Soundbite of pages turning)

LAWRENCE: Flipping through a book of handwritten star charts, he recounts how the stars foretold Iraq's sectarian warfare, the American surge here, as well as the worldwide financial crisis. And he's got some predictions about the coming political season.

Mr. ALI AL-BAKRI (Fortune Teller): (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: Iraq is at a critical time in the course of history, Bakri says. And he also foretells that new political blocs will be forming, and that a character from behind the scenes may spring onto center stage - not very far off what many expect, with alliances forming and fragmenting in the early negotiations around the government formation here. It's also quite possible that Iraq's next prime minister will be a new face, a weak compromise candidate that satisfies all of the party bosses.

Mr. BAKRI: (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: Also sticking with the conventional wisdom, Bakri predicts a long wait - until summer, at least - for Iraq's parties to hammer out a deal over the new government. Looking at the stars, Bakri says it's much better to form a government in June than August, which would also spare Iraq a few extra months of lame duck, caretaker government that insurgents could exploit.

Mr. BAKRI: (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: Bakri declines to name the candidates who've consulted him directly or through a third party. He has worked up complete astrological charts for Ayad Allawi and for Iraq's consummate political survivor, Ahmad�Chalabi. He predicts a powerful year for both men. Unfortunately, Bakri says he doesn't have the exact birth date for sitting Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, so he cannot predict accurately whether the incumbent will keep his job.

Of course, all of this speculation could be ended by an official announcement of the results, but Iraq's electoral commission isn't promising anything until the end of the month.

Quil Lawrence, NPR News, Baghdad.

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