Iraqi PM's bloc accuses election official of fraud

BAGHDAD: The coalition led by Iraq's prime minister has accused an election official of manipulating vote counts from the country's parliamentary elections and called for a recount, a candidate from the bloc said Tuesday.

It was the latest charge to mar the March 7 balloting, already plagued by a chaotic and slow tally process and fraud allegations.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's faction has a narrow lead in a tight race, according to partial results released by the electoral commission.

Ali al-Adeeb, a candidate on al-Maliki's slate, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the prime minister sent a complaint to the Independent High Electoral Commission and its U.N. advisers.

"There was manipulation of the numbers by an official who works in the data entry section," al-Adeeb said, without naming the official. "This person is working for the benefit of one bloc and manipulating the numbers."

The coalition has also asked for a re-count of the original vote tallies from all the country's more than 50,000 polling stations, al-Adeeb said.

Since the nationwide balloting, the counting process has been fraught with claims of fraud, mostly from the opposition. The electoral commission has also been criticized for its chaotic work and slowness in releasing the results.

Electoral commission official Saad al-Rawi confirmed the commission had received the complaint from al-Maliki's bloc but said it was one of many complaints to come in without any concrete evidence.

"The complaints against us from the blocs don't end," al-Rawi said. "They need to present proof for an investigation to be opened and the judge will decide."

Independent Iraqi observers and United Nations officials who are advising the commission have said they have seen no evidence of widespread fraud that could undermine the final outcome.

Some have suggested, though, that the slow and disorganized release of results could fuel suspicions of fraud.

According to the partial count from all of Iraq's 18 provinces, al-Maliki's State of Law coalition leads in seven provinces. His closest challenger, the secular Iraqiya bloc, led former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, leads in five provinces.

The religious Shiite Iraqi National Alliance and the main Kurdish coalition each lead in three.

The results are based on partial vote counts released by Monday evening, with 66 percent of the votes tallied. It is unclear if more partial results will be released later Tuesday.

The early tally strengthens al-Maliki's chances of retaining the prime minister's post, although he is unlikely to win a majority necessary to govern alone. Instead, the narrow race could lead to months of political wrangling as leaders try to cobble together a coalition government that will rule as American forces leave Iraq in 2011.

The election was Iraq's second for a full-term government since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.