Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and his main rival, Iyad Allawi were locked in a tight election battle yesterday, with updated results showing their blocs neck-and-neck in the race for 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, calculation based on results released after 79 percent of ballots had been counted showed.
Votes cast outside Iraq and during special voting for the security forces, the sick and prisoners, however, have not yet been tabulated by the Iraqi election commission and could yet dramatically affect the outcome.
The election, the second since Iraqi president Saddam Hussein was ousted in the US-led invasion of 2003, comes less than six months before the US is set to withdraw all of its combat troops from Iraq.
Overall, Allawi held a slim lead in the nationwide vote count, with 2,102,981 votes cast in Iraqiya’s favor, compared with 2,093,997 for the State of Law alliance, a difference of just 8,984 votes.
However, 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 mostly Shiite southern provinces, but failed to finish in the top three in all but one of Iraq’s Sunni-majority provinces.
Allawi’s Iraqiya coalition, on the other hand, was leading 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.
It was also placed in the top three in six predominantly Shiite provinces where Maliki came either first or second.
The Iraqi National Alliance, a coalition led by Shiite religious groups 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.
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 maneuver 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 by today and final results — after all complaints have been investigated and ruled upon — are likely by the end of the month.
“We need several more days to announce the final results,” Qassim al-Abboudi, an election official, told a news conference on Tuesday, explaining that the appeals process would take about two weeks after full results were published.
Opposition groups have alleged fraud in the election and the count, but Maliki dismissed the claims in televised remarks late on Sunday, his first public appearance since his office announced last Thursday that he had undergone surgery for an unspecified ailment.
Election officials also downplayed allegations of fraud.
Security officials have expressed concern that a lengthy period of coalition-building could provide insurgent groups and al-Qaeda in Iraq with an opportunity to further destabilize the country.
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