Iraqi PM's allies seen ahead with lower turnout expected

Maliki's allies appeared to be headed for a win as turnout in Iraq's polls was low despite the elections that were hailed as a political milestone for the future of the occupation-torn nation.

Iraqi PM's allies seen ahead with lower turnout expected

Turnout in Iraq's polls to elect councils governing 14 out of 18 provinces was lower than many had hoped despite the elections that were hailed as a political milestone for the future of the occupation-torn nation.

The elections took place on Saturday.

Officials said on Sunday 7.5 million or 51 percent of the more than 14 million registered voters had voted.

That was lower than the 60 percent or more that many political leaders, including Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, had spoken of during the campaign. Participation in Iraq's last vote, a parliamentary election in 2005, was 76 percent.

In Baghdad, turnout on Saturday appeared to have been just under 40 percent, the independent electoral commission said.

"Despite the low level of participation, which hurt us a lot, we are happy because our people who boycotted the previous election took part in this one," said Alaa Maki, a leader of the traditional Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party.

Sunni Arabs boycotted the last provincial polls in 2005, leaving them with only 10 out of Nineveh's 41 council seats, despite making up 60 percent of the population.

Kurds control 31 seats, despite being a quarter of it.

One party that had hoped to attract votes from the former members of Saddam's Baath party is al-Hadba, a new bloc led by Atheel al-Nujaifi.

But he told Reuters on Sunday: "I do not think there have been major breaches. We believe we will get 70 percent."

The U.S. official told reporters anecdotal evidence suggested al Hadba had won around two thirds of the vote.

"If al-Hadba has done as well as we think ... we're probably looking at a provincial council in which al-Hadba can govern alone. The crisis of legitimacy is addressed."

Nineveh deputy governor Khasro Goran, a Kurd, said he had heard no reports of trickery or intimidation of voters. He added that he thought al-Hadba would not get over 50 percent so would need to form a coalition with the Kurds.

"Our doors are open. We don't fear cooperation," he said.

Mohammed Shakir, local head of the other main Sunni Arab contender, the Iraqi Islamic Party, also applauded the vote.

"The election went smoothly. We think it was fair," he said.

In a remote town south of Mosul, a house belonging to al-Hadba candidate Faisal al-Habu was blown up, police said. It was Habu's second home and he was not there. No one was injured.

Results in couple of days

Preliminary results from the election are expected in a couple of days while final results may not be known for a month.

The Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, Iraq's largest Shi'ite religious party, said on Monday it had come either first or second in provincial polls despite signs it lost major ground to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

The party, which has controlled most provinces in Iraq's Shi'ite south since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, said it was content with results of Saturday's election, but did not refer directly to reports that Maliki's allies dealt it serious blows.

Instead, it said in a statement that its candidates had placed either first or second in 11 of the 14 provinces that held votes for their local councils, and that it expected to control 20-25 percent of provincial council seats.

"In any case, the Supreme Council remained a fundamental and primary player in the Iraqi field," it said, adding that the party, known as ISCI, was reaching out to possible provincial coalition partners.

While official results from the ballot will not be made public for days, early indications were that candidates allied with Maliki's Dawa Party had scored victories against ISCI, which was founded in Iran while Saddam Hussein was in charge.

Among the areas where Maliki's State of Law coalition appeared to be headed for a win and perhaps a landslide was the southern oil hub of Basra, a key prize. State of Law candidates also appeared to have done well in Shi'ite parts of Baghdad, including the giant Sadr City slum.

If confirmed, the results in the second major election since the 2003 fall of Saddam Hussein would overturn six years of provincial rule by mostly religious parties and give al-Maliki strong momentum in his bid to hold on to power in a general election due this year.

Almost 300,000 local and international observers monitored the elections and the independent electoral commission said it had received very few complaints about attempts of vote-buying.

Hundreds of thousands of eligible voters out of 15 million eligible to vote in 14 of the country's 18 provinces were reported to have been left off ballot lists. Election officials have said they will investigate.

Mithal al-Alusi, a Sunni legislator, said there were "many mistakes in this election committee".

"We are very worried about a few hundred thousand voters [who] didn't become approved to vote or [get] the chance to vote."

Agencies

Last Mod: 02 Şubat 2009, 15:06
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