Iraq's former finance minister Hoshyar Zebari has been barred from running for the presidency after the country’s Federal Supreme Court said he did not fulfil the legal criteria.
Mr Zebari stands accused of administrative corruption including alleged misuse of public funds, which led to him being dismissed from office in 2016.
He says the charges are politically motivated, but last week, the federal court suspended his candidacy.
The move is a temporary setback for the Kurdish Democratic Party, which Mr Zebari is part of. The KDP is one of two leading parties in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq and is vying for the presidency with its rival, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.
Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr’s coalition, which secured the largest number of seats in parliament following October’s election, has allied with the KDP and two leading Sunni political parties, Taqadum and Azm.
That puts the political alliance in pole position to form the largest bloc in parliament, which is essential for forming the next government.
But Iraq’s constitution requires parliament to select a president, who must then choose the largest bloc to form a government. The supreme court's move to bar Mr Zebari therefore represents another delay in the government formation process.
The rival alliance, known as the Coordination Framework — mainly comprising Shiite political parties, including some linked to Iran ― has been strongly contesting the election result, claiming that the poll was marred by fraud.
The UN said that Iraq’s election was “technically sound” and called on all parties to respect the results.
Some members of the Coordination Framework, including MP Alia Nsayyif, who is allied to former prime minister Nouri Al Maliki, have warned that violence could break out if government formation did not reflect their claimed electoral gains.
Threats have also come from Shiite militia groups linked to some of the main parties in the Coordination Framework, including Hadi Al Amiri’s Fatah bloc, which has played a co-ordinating role with a number of Iran-backed armed groups.
Mr Zebari was tipped as one of two front-runners out of a total of 25 candidates for the presidency. The other is incumbent President Barham Salih of the KDP's rival party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.
Earlier this month, four parliamentarians filed a petition to the federal court demanding Mr Zebari's exclusion from the presidential race, accusing him of financial and administrative corruption.
Iraq's parliament had been due to vote on a new head of state last Monday but cancelled the vote because it lacked the quorum to hold a session after many MPs said they would boycott it over competing demands over presidential candidates.