IRAQ’s election race tightened between the two main rivals Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and the former Premier Iyad Allawi, after a count, of 79 per cent of the votes cast in last week’s national polls, showing both their blocs neck-and-neck in the way to dominate parliament.
Maliki’s State of Law Alliance, and Allawi’s Iraqiya coalition were each on pace to garner 87 seats in Iraq’s Council of Representatives, with less than 9,000 votes separating the two nationwide, according to a calculation based on results released.
Overall, Allawi held a slim lead in the nationwide vote count, with 2,102,981 votes cast in Iraqiya’s favour, compared to 2,093,997 for the State of Law alliance, a difference of just 8,984 votes.
However, the early results, released on Tuesday, do not necessarily mean that Iraqiya is winning the race.
Votes cast outside Iraq and during special voting for the security forces, the sick and prisoners have not yet been tabulated by Iraq’s election commission, and could yet dramatically affect the outcome.
The State of Law leads in Baghdad, Iraq’s largest province and accounting for more than twice as many parliamentary seats as any other, as well as in the oil-rich southern province of Basra, the third biggest in the country. It is also ahead in five other southern provinces.
Allawi’s Iraqiya coalition, on the other hand, leads in four provinces, including Iraq’s second biggest province Nineveh. It was also in a virtual tie for the lead in a fifth, Kirkuk, where it was ahead of a Kurdish bloc by only six votes.
The Iraqi National Alliance, a coalition led by Sayyed Amar Al-Hakim and include Sayyed Moqtada al-Sadr’s political group, is set to come in third with 67 seats, while Kurdistania, comprised of the autonomous Kurdish region’s two long-dominant blocs, likely to have 38.
The INA has emerged as an increasingly important power, it will emerge as the head of a second-tier bloc. This will leave them in the position of a valuable ally to one of the two front running parties.
No other group is set to win more than 10 seats. Fifteen of the 325 seats in parliament are either compensatory or reserved for minorities and were not included in the calculations.
Iraq’s proportional representation electoral system makes it unlikely that any single group will clinch the 163 seats needed to form a government on its own, and protracted coalition building is likely.
Both State of Law and Iraqiya have said they have begun talks with rival blocs to form a government, with analysts warning that political groupings could still manoeuvre to form a coalition without either list.
Intisar Allawi, a senior Iraqiya candidate, said the group had held ‘very good and positive’ talks with the INA and the Kurdish bloc, while State of Law has formed a committee to hold negotiations with other lists.
Complete election results are expected around March 18, and final results, after all complaints have been investigated and ruled upon, are likely by the end of the month.
Opposition groups have alleged fraud in the election and the count, but Maliki dismissed the claims in televised remarks late on Sunday.
However on Wednesday, an ally of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki alleged widespread fraud in Iraq’s parliamentary elections and demanded a nationwide recount.
There has been clear manipulation inside the election commission in the interests of a certain or a specific list,’ said Adeeb, a candidate for State of Law in the southern province of Karbala.
‘State of Law demands the counting process be repeated to be sure that there has been no manipulation.’ Adeeb described Iraqiya’s progress as ‘like a miracle’.
Election officials however, downplayed allegations of fraud.
l In a development that reflects the level of political tension in Iraq, the ‘State of Law’ coalition [SOL] which is led by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has threatened to ignite a ‘popular uprising’ if its leader was not chosen to lead the government.
While Baghdad will witness expanded negotiations between the various blocs to form the government, US Central Command Commander General David Petraeus called the progress in Iraq ‘still fragile and might disappear.’
Ali al-Allaq, a leading ‘Al-Da’wah Party’ member, said in a statement to ‘Al-Hayat’ that ‘SOL is insisting on nominating Al-Maliki for a second term’, adding that ‘the attempts by some to exclude him from leadership of the government means cancelling the popular and democratic will by concluding agreements in closed rooms to name the next prime minister.’
He threatened ‘an outbreak of a peaceful popular uprising for ignoring the voters’ wishes if Al-Maliki was not nominated for a second term as prime minister.’
Al-Maliki’s list expressed its suspicions about the results of the votes in Baghdad which show a slight lead by ‘Al-Iraqiyah National Movement’ list led by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.
After counting 80 per cent of the votes, the Independent Higher Elections Commission yesterday announced that Al-Maliki’s list was still ahead followed by Allawi’s List and then the ‘Iraqi National Coalition’.
It said the ‘SOL’ coalition got more than 663,000 votes in Baghdad while ‘Al-Iraqiyah’ came second with 594,000 votes and ‘National Coalition’ got less than 410,000 votes. In addition to his lead in Baghdad, Al-Maliki is leading in five southern governorates against Allawi who is leading in five governorates in north and west Iraq while the ‘National Coalition’ is leading in three governorates and the ‘Kurdish Alliance’ is leading in three governorates too. Baghdad is expected to witness within days negotiations between the winning blocs to explore the possibility of forming a coalition government.
Meanwhile, US Central Command Commander Gen. David Petraeus presented a pessimistic review of the Iraqi situation and said before a Senate committee that progress in the land of the two rivers ‘is still fragile and might disappear despite the decline in the acts of violence and the success of the general elections.’ He expected ‘innumerable challenges’ and difficulty in forming the government.