62pc turnout in Iraq vote; Al-Maliki claims lead
Baghdad, March 8, 2010
Turnout in Iraq's parliamentary election on Sunday was 62 percent, lower than a previous national vote in December 2005 but higher than in last year's provincial ballot, the electoral commission said.
Preliminary results were not expected for another day or two in a poll that Iraqis sickened by violence hope will help bring stability after years of sectarian slaughter, and better governance as US troops prepare to withdraw.
Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki's State of Law list claimed it was on course for victory in Baghdad and Iraq's Shi'ite south, a claim that could not be verified but which, at least in the south, appeared to be backed by informal, early vote tallies.
'The State of Law Coalition list is leading among other lists in Baghdad and other southern provinces,' said Ali Al-Dabbagh, government spokesman and State of Law candidate.
Lawmaker Haider Al-Ebadi, a State of Law candidate and member of Al-Maliki's Dawa party, said initial results suggested the coalition was ahead in 10 provinces.
'In Baghdad and south of Baghdad, the State of Law was number one. But the special voting and voters abroad, this has not been concluded yet and could alter the outcome,' he said.
There were 250,000 voters abroad, he said, compared to expectations that more than one million Iraqis might vote overseas. Most Iraqis abroad are believed to be minority Sunnis and their votes could be crucial for the chances of a secular, Shi'ite-Sunni alliance headed by former premier Iyad Allawi.
The scale of the Sunni vote will indicate whether Sunnis feel they have a real stake in Iraq's nascent democracy after the shock of the US-led 2003 invasion, when they lost their relatively privileged position under Saddam Hussein.
Many Sunnis felt targeted when a Shi'ite-led panel vetoed around 500 candidates, including a top Sunni politician, before the vote, for alleged links to Saddam's outlawed Baath party.
Sunnis felt under-represented after the 2005 election for a full-term parliament, which sealed the grip on power of majority Shi'ites and minority Kurds oppressed by Saddam.
Al-Maliki faces a stiff challenge from his former Shi'ite Islamist allies grouped in the Iraqi National Alliance (INA).
The powerful Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (ISCI), which is part of that bloc, said the vote appeared evenly split between Al-Maliki and INA in early counting. -Reuters