Iraq ballots to be audited due to voting "anomalies"

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Tuesday, October 18, 2005

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The Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq (IECI) has announced that it will audit the votes cast in this weekend's constitutional referendum in Iraq over what it sees as voting "anomalies". Adel Alami, chief electoral officer in Iraq, would not give any details but stated that in some provinces figures were either too low or too high when compared to international standards.

A source told the BBC, on the condition of anonymity, that voter turnout and the result levels were causing some concern. Problems with the initial results were said to be found in the southern Shi'ite and northern Kurdish areas of the country.

The official said, "The first controls are now taking place. We are not ruling out technical errors or fraud, but for now it is only a question of anomalies." Six provinces in southern Iraq, inhabited by a Shia majority, voted an overwhelming 90% in favour of the new constitution. Two Sunni majority areas rejected the constitution by over 80%.

According to the source, "When you have more than 90 percent 'yes', computers signal it immediately and there is a manual check. It means the figures must be looked at closely."

The United Nations had stated the voting had gone very well, although some Sunni political leaders have alleged that corrupt voting practices were used to inflate the "yes" vote.

United States President George W. Bush praised Iraqis, both proponents and those in opposition to the charter, saying, "I was pleased to see that the Sunnis have participated in the process. The idea of deciding to go into a ballot box is a positive development."

Condoleezza Rice said that initial information pointed to a likely yes vote, although this statement was met with some surprise by United Nations and Iraqi officials. Karina Parelli, head of the United Nations Election Assistance Team in Iraq said, "Unless Rice is more well-informed than the IECI, thus far there is no way to know the turnout percentages or the results of the voting."

An official from the IECI, Hussein Hindawi, responded, "As far as I know, she does not work at the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq."

The IECI has made no official statements regarding fraud, and an election official cautioned that it was too early to know whether the numbers were incorrect or even if they would affect the outcome.

Most Shia and Kurdish citizens of Iraq support the new constitution, while the minority Sunni ethnic group fear loss of control over the country.

It is thought that the irregularities may not have affected the outcome as two of the main battleground provinces voted strongly in favour of the constitution. The commission stated that it was re-examining the votes and the final results could be delayed by several days.

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