Iraqi PM Maliki loses out to rival in election
THE Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, was last night poised to lose power as final election tallies showed that Iyad Allawi, the secularist challenger, had won the most seats in the 325-member parliament.
The results released yesterday by the country's election commission showed Mr Allawi's Iraqiya group winning 91 seats, narrowly beating the alliance led by Mr Maliki into second place.
Potential coalition partners are thought hostile to any deals that would keep Mr Maliki in power. There is no guarantee that Mr Allawi, a former prime minister, will be able to form a ruling coalition either but the extent of his success is much greater than had been expected.
Violence marked the final day of election counting yesterday as two bombs in Diyala province killed 40 people and wounded more than 60. Iraq is not likely to return to the mass slaughter of recent years but the bloodshed underscored the ongoing political tensions.
In Baghdad, protesters supporting Mr Maliki backed his call for a recount of the March 7 poll and waved banners reading 'No, no to fraud!' and 'Where have our voices gone?' But the Independent High Electoral Council has denied allegations of widespread fraud and rejected demands for a manual recount. The UN's top representative in Iraq, Ad Melkert, also declared that the results were credible and urged all sides to accept them.
Iraqi leaders will now play an elaborate game of political chess as they negotiate over the next four or five months on how power is to be shared and who will form the next government. The two front runners -- Mr Maliki's State of Law and Iraqiya -- will look for coalition partners among the other two important political groupings. These are the Kurds with about 42 seats and the Iraqi National Alliance (INA) -- grouping together two Shia religious parties, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) and the followers of the anti-American Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr -- with around 70.
The election campaign saw sectarian hatred deepen between Shia and Sunni. Sunni leaders were banned from running as parliamentary candidates at the last moment because of alleged past membership of the Ba'ath party. Meanwhile, Mr Maliki abandoned his previous nationalist and non-sectarian rhetoric in order to appeal to core Shia voters.
But while the election has showed that Iraq is divided and even unstable, this does not necessarily imply there will be a return to the violence of 2003-7.
It is unlikely that Mr Maliki and Mr Allawi could form a coalition because they personally dislike each other and it is doubtful if the Shia majority would allow their post-Saddam Hussein predominance in Iraq to be diluted.
It is more likely that the State of Law coalition will look for a new candidate to be prime minister, probably from Mr Maliki's Dawa party.
The strength of Sunni Arab participation in the election means any new government will have to include more Sunnis than in the past.
The foreign powers which back the different parties all have reasons to be pleased. The Americans have seen an election take place which will enable them to withdraw on schedule. Saudi Arabia and the Sunni states are satisfied with Mr Allawi's strong showing and the Iranians' allies have done well enough to determine the shape of the next Iraqi government. (©Independent News Service)