BAGHDAD – Seven weeks after Iraqis went to the polls, a special elections court disqualified a winning parliamentary candidate, most likely reversing the narrow defeat of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s coalition and possibly allowing him the first chance to form a new coalition government.
The court disqualified the candidate on charges that he was a loyalist of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party, and it left open the possibility of barring still more.
Moves by the court, if upheld on appeal, will erase the two-seat victory by a largely secular coalition led by Ayad Allawi, a Shiite who served as an interim prime minister after the American overthrow of Hussein.
At a minimum, it will further delay the formation of a new government through the months when the Obama administration plans to withdraw its combat troops, leaving a force of only 50,000 by September.
Iraqi officials now grimly predict that there might not be a new government by that deadline, putting the United States in the difficult position of deciding whether to press ahead with its plans despite the political uncertainty here.
Allawi’s bloc won 91 seats in the country’s new 325-seat parliament, compared with 89 for al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition, according to preliminary results announced a month ago that have now been cast in doubt.
The court also disqualified 51 other losing candidates; the votes they received will be discarded, requiring a recalculation of the winners – and losers – across the ballot. Under Iraq’s tortuous and untested election laws, that could cost Allawi’s bloc a second seat, while awarding seats to al-Maliki or other parties, officials said.
The director of a disputed commission charged with purging former Baath loyalists also disclosed Monday that he had asked the court to bar eight more winning candidates. The court is expected to rule on those candidates, all them with Allawi’s coalition, as soon as Tuesday.
The court’s moves strengthened al-Maliki’s bare-knuckled efforts to win a second term as prime minister. But that prospect is still by no means certain, since his government has faced new criticism after a series of bombings at Shiite mosques and neighborhoods on Friday.
The machinations over the results have also cast doubt on the ultimate fairness of an election that was seen as a test of Iraq’s nascent democracy and the ability of the United States to withdraw. The political impasse has revived sectarian tensions that are never far from the surface and has raised the specter of even more violence.
Allawi’s supporters, many of them Sunni Muslims, denounced the ruling and other moves since the March 7 election as an effort to undercut the voters’ will. Sunni anger over elections in 2005 fueled the insurgency that engulfed the country.