Tue, May 15, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Al-Sadr leads Iraq’s initial vote results

LOW TURNOUT:Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi performed poorly across the nation, while an alliance of candidates linked to the paramilitary placed second

AP, BAGHDAD

Followers of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, pictured on poster, celebrate in Tahrir Square, Baghdad, early yesterday.

Photo: AP

The political coalition of influential Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr took an early lead in Iraq’s national elections in partial returns announced late on Sunday by the Iraqi electoral commission.

An alliance of candidates linked to Iraq’s powerful Shiite paramilitary groups was in second. The alliance is headed by Hadi al-Amiri, a former minister of transport with close ties to Iran who became a senior commander of paramilitary fighters in the fight against the Islamic State extremist group.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi performed poorly across majority Shiite provinces that should have been his base of support.

The announcement came just over 24 hours after polls closed across the nation amid record low voter turnout. It included full returns from only 10 of the country’s 19 provinces, including the provinces of Baghdad and Basra.

Members of the national election commission read out vote tallies for each candidate list in each of the 10 provinces on national TV. By the end of the announcement, al-Sadr’s list had the highest popular vote, followed by al-Amiri’s.

Seats in parliament are to be allocated proportionately to coalitions once all votes are counted. The commission gave no indication on when results would be announced.

Celebrations erupted in Baghdad’s Sadr City, an impoverished quarter that is home to about 3 million people and is named after the cleric’s late father, Ayatollah Mohammad Sadq al-Sadr.

The younger al-Sadr campaigned on a cross-sectarian platform of fighting corruption and investing in services and struck a surprising alliance with the Communist Party in the capital.

The strong showing could be a testament to al-Sadr’s loyal base of followers he maintains who cast their ballots despite a general mood of apathy that kept many Iraqis away from the polls.

Al-Sadr commanded fighters in the war against the Islamic State group and headed a powerful militia that fought US forces in Iraq prior to 2011, but his campaign this year focused on social issues and eliminating government corruption.

Al-Abadi sought to retain his post as prime minister after overseeing the military defeat of the Islamic State movement, but faced stiff competition from his predecessor, Nouri al-Maliki, as well as al-Sadr and the Fatah alliance of candidates with paramilitary ties.

Many of the candidates on Fatah were militia commanders before they cut their official ties with the force to seek office.

Fatah’s strong result will be seen as a victory for Iran as it seeks to protect its interests in the Iraq, including the militias it finances and has sometimes directed to fight alongside its forces in Syria.

Al-Sadr is a staunch foe of Iranian and US influence in Iraq.

The elections on Saturday were the first since Iraq declared victory over Islamic State fighters and the fourth since the 2003 US-led toppling of then-president Saddam Hussein. Officials said turnout was only 44 percent, the lowest ever since Saddam’s ouster.

Any political party or alliance must gain a majority of Iraq’s 329 seats in parliament to be able to choose a prime minister and form a government.

Dozens of alliances ran for office in these elections and months of negotiations are expected before any one alliance can pull together the 165 required seats.

Until a new prime minister is chosen, al-Abadi is to remain in office, retaining all his power.

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