BAGHDAD—Iraq’s top election body said Thursday a manual recount of votes from the parliamentary election in May showed almost no difference from the initial tally, clearing the way for political parties to form a government.
Fewer than a dozen members of parliament out of 329 lost their seats in the recount, according to Iraq’s electoral commission.
The ballots were recounted after widespread allegations of fraud in the election in which populist anti-U.S. cleric Moqtada al-Sadr won a surprise victory. Those allegations paralyzed Iraq’s politics and increased popular anger, and the recount result is unlikely to restore confidence in the democratic process.
At least 55% of Iraqis had boycotted the May vote, reflecting widespread disillusion with a political class that has reaped billions of dollars from oil revenues but has failed to deliver basic services to large parts of the population since the U.S. toppled
The next government faces a daunting list of challenges: reforming the economy, fighting corruption, rebuilding areas destroyed in the war against Islamic State and preventing a resurgence of the terror group over which Iraq claimed victory last year.
The results must now be ratified by the court, after which a session of parliament should be held within 15 days. It could be several months before a government is formed.
Already, wrangling over government formation has compounded dissatisfaction that exploded last month across southern Iraq in protests due to electricity shortages.
Many of the election fraud allegations revolved around electronic voting machines, introduced for the first time this year to speed up the electoral process and reduce irregularities.
Iraqi politicians alleged the devices had been tampered with, and Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said there had been “unprecedented breaches,” blaming the country’s electoral commission for failing to contract a firm to check the machines.
Members of parliament who lost their seats spearheaded a vote forcing a recount, and a panel of judges was appointed to oversee a recount of votes in stations where complaints had been made. Only a handful of parliament members gained seats at the expense of others.
Electoral candidate Fatah al-Sheikh, who failed to win a seat, said the recount was “nothing but an attempt to cover up the huge fraud in the May 12 elections.”
The votes cast for Mr. Sheikh could not be recounted after an eastern Baghdad warehouse used to store ballot boxes burned down in June, which Mr. Abadi declared a deliberate act. Several electoral commission employees were detained in relation to the incident, but it is not clear who was behind it.
The blaze further undermined faith in an election already marred by the lowest turnout since Iraq became a democracy 15 years ago.
That low turnout helped Mr. Sadr win the most seats because his devoted following among Iraq’s urban poor went to the polls when a majority of voters stayed at home. But his relatively narrow margin means he must ally with other coalitions to form a majority.
Mr. Sadr on Thursday said he would go into opposition unless 40 conditions he recently set for the next government weren’t met within 15 days of the results being announced.
“It is probable that the same corrupt powers will control governance in Iraq and that corruption will return wearing a different robe,” he said.