Tags: Iraq | ruling | party | election

Iraq's Ruling Party Widens Election Lead

Sunday, 14 March 2010 06:29 PM

BAGHDAD - Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was on track to claim several key Iraqi provinces on Sunday, bolstering his chances of keeping his job after an election crucial to ending years of bloody unrest.

A day after emerging in pole position in Baghdad, Maliki's State of Law Alliance held strong leads in two of Iraq's three biggest constituencies and was ahead in seven of the 18 provinces overall, although the figures were far from complete.

The results from the second parliamentary election since Saddam Hussein's ouster in 2003 come less than six months ahead of a US downsizing which will see all American combat troops leave the country by the end of August.

Maliki, a Shiite who had sought to portray himself as the leader who restored Iraq's security, was given comfortable leads in the oil-rich province of Basra, the third-biggest constituency, and the southern province of Karbala. Both provinces are mostly Shiite.

State of Law already held leads in Baghdad, whose 70 seats account for more than a fifth of Iraq's 325-member Council of Representatives, as well as Babil, Najaf, Wasit and Muthanna.

The latter four provinces are all southern predominantly Shiite areas.

Opposition blocs have alleged fraud in the March 7 polls and in the ballot counting that has ensued, but Maliki dismissed the claims, describing complaints as being "very small" in nature.

"The complaints ... cannot affect the results," the premier told Iraq's National Security Council in remarks broadcast on television and distributed in a statement from his office.

The television appearance was Maliki's first since last week's election and since his office announced on Thursday that he had undergone surgery in a Baghdad hospital for an unspecified ailment.

Election officials also downplayed claims of fraud.

Faraj al-Haidari, the head of the national election commission, told reporters the number of complaints in the parliamentary polls was less than half that of provincial elections in January 2009.

Another official, Hamdiyah al-Husseini, said the commission had received nearly 2,000 complaints.

Sunday's results were met with a frantic reaction in the national election commission's press room, as results from three provinces were put on one elevated flat-screen television.

Election officials were unable to show all the figures on the screen, sparking shouts of anger from assembled journalists who were furiously taking notes.

The electoral commission has pleaded for patience as vote tabulation has been slowed by persistent computer crashes, which again affected work on Sunday.

Meanwhile, separate sets of figures released on Sunday showed secular ex-premier Iyad Allawi, a Shiite like Maliki, was ahead in the disputed oil-rich province of Kirkuk, against the expectations of analysts who had predicted it would likely be won by a Kurdish bloc.

Allawi was also leading in the Sunni bastion of Anbar, Iraq's biggest province by geography and the centre of a bloody insurgency in the early years of the US-led occupation, according to Sunday's results.

That brought to five the number of provinces in which his Iraqiya bloc was in pole position as he also held leads in Nineveh, Iraq's second-biggest constituency, and the predominantly Sunni central provinces of Diyala and Salaheddin.

The INA was ahead in the mostly Shiite southern provinces of Maysan, Diwaniyah and Dhi Qar.

Elsewhere, figures showed Kurdistania, an alliance of the Kurdish autonomous region's two long-dominant parties, was ahead in the battleground province of Sulaimaniyah and Iraq's northernmost province of Dohuk.

Earlier results also put Kurdistania ahead in Arbil, seat of the Iraqi Kurdish regional government.

Despite State of Law's success, however, analysts have cautioned that rival political groupings could still manoeuvre to form a coalition government without it.

Iraq's proportional representation electoral system makes it unlikely that any single grouping will clinch the 163 seats needed to form a government on its own, and analysts expect protracted coalition building.

Complete results from the general election are expected on March 18 and the final ones -- after any appeals are dealt with -- will probably come at the end of the month.

Copyright © 2010 AFP. All rights reserved.

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Sunday, 14 March 2010 06:29 PM
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