Iraq awaits final vote results

BAGHDAD: Full results from Iraq’s elections are due today amid a tight race between sitting Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and his main rival, Iyad Allawi, and fears of a nascent political crisis.

Nearly three weeks after the March 7 parliamentary election, the national election commission is set to release complete results, with the prolonged counting process fuelling

allegations of fraud and vote manipulation.

The results come around five months before the United States is due to withdraw all of its combat troops from Iraq, and Washington will be keen to see a smooth outcome from the election.

Tension was evident in Baghdad, with helicopters flying over the centre of

the city with increased

frequency and hundreds taking to the streets

to demonstrate.

In central Baghdad’s Salhiyeh neighbourhood, 200 to 300 people gathered to back a call from Maliki for a manual recount of votes, brandishing Iraqi flags and shouting, “All the people are with you Maliki!”.

Figures released by Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission, based on 95 per cent of ballots cast,

put the incumbent’s State of Law Alliance around 11,000 votes behind Allawi’s Iraqiya bloc. IHEC is set to publish the complete figures at a news conference at the Rasheed Hotel in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone at 7pm (1600 GMT).

Shortly after the latest figures were released, Maliki cried foul and demanded a recount, warning that one was needed to “protect political stability ... and prevent a return to violence.” Electoral authorities have rebuffed the incumbent’s demands, though, with IHEC officials and Western diplomats downplaying allegations of fraud.

State of Law, however, has threatened not to recognise results it sees as tainted, which could plunge Iraq into a major political crisis.

In the days leading up

to Friday’s final results,

the bloc has organised

several demonstrations

in predominantly Shiite provinces in the south, where it performed well in the parliamentary election.

Council chiefs of 10

central and southern provinces, including Baghdad, and who belong to the coalition also published a statement on Wednesday threatening “a major escalation” if Maliki’s recount demand was not met. They did not elaborate.

State of Law and Iraqiya are on track to garner 91 seats apiece in the 325-member Council of Representatives, according to an AFP calculation.

The list that forms the single largest group in parliament will be chosen by Iraq’s president, who is elected by the legislature, to form a government.

If it does not succeed within 30 days, another group will be selected, as per the constitution.

However, no bloc is expected to win the 163 seats required to form a parliamentary majority, and protracted coalition building is likely. The Iraqi National

Alliance, a coalition led

by Shiite religious groups, and Kurdistania, consisting of the autonomous Kurdish region’s two long-dominant parties, are expected

take 68 and 42 seats respectively and will be major players in any talks on forming a government.