Thu, May 01, 2014 - Page 1 News List

Iraqis go to the polls, PM sure of third term

DIVIDED NATION:Turnout for the elections was reportedly low in predominantly Sunni areas of the country. More than 9,000 candidates were seeking parliamentary seats

Reuters, BAGHDAD

Iraqis wait in line yesterday to vote at a polling station in Baghdad.

Photo: EPA

Iraqis yesterday voted in their first national election since US forces withdrew in 2011, with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki seeking a third term amid rising violence.

Iraq’s western province of Anbar is torn by fighting as Sunni Muslim militants battle the Iraqi military. Its economy is struggling and al-Maliki faces criticism that he is aggravating sectarian splits and trying to consolidate power.

Polls opened at 7am. Voters were choosing from among 9,012 candidates and the parliamentary election will effectively serve as a referendum on al-Maliki, a Shiite Muslim who has governed for eight years.

The elections went off in central Iraq and the south with few hitches by mid-day, while turnout was low in Sunni regions, where residents are often afraid of the security forces and al-Qaeda-inspired militants.

The disparities were a reminder of the frictions between the country’s Shiite majority and Sunnis.

Baghdad, where a vehicle curfew was in effect, was quiet through late morning. The roads were dotted with military checkpoints and people walked on foot to the polling stations.

Humvees flanked the voting centers. Razor wire sealed off the area as people passed multiple checkpoints to go inside to vote. Several dozen army and police swarmed the street. The seeming calm was a contrast to the 2010 elections, when the capital was ripped by explosions, many of them sound bombs.

Al-Maliki was among the first to vote in Baghdad at a hotel next to the fortified Green Zone where the government is based. He urged people to follow suit despite security threats.

“I call upon the Iraqi people to head in large numbers to the ballot boxes to send a message of deterrence and a slap to the face of terrorism,” al-Maliki told reporters.

Political analysts say no party is likely to win a majority in the 328-seat parliament. Forming a government may be hard even if al-Maliki’s State of Law alliance wins the most seats as expected, although he was confident of another victory.

“Our victory is confirmed but we are still talking about how big this victory will be,” al-Maliki said.

Al-Maliki has portrayed himself as the Shiite community’s defender against the Sunni, al-Qaeda-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

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