BAGHDAD (AFP) – Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and his main rival Iyad Allawi were locked in a tight election battle Wednesday, with updated results showing their blocs neck-and-neck in the race for parliament.
Maliki’s State of Law Alliance and Allawi’s Iraqiya list were each on track to garner 87 seats in Iraq’s Council of Representatives, with less than 9,000 votes separating the two nationwide; according to an AFP calculation based on results released after 79 percent of ballots had been counted.
But votes cast outside Iraq and during special voting for the security forces, the sick and prisoners have not yet been tabulated by Iraq’s election commission and could still dramatically affect the outcome.
The election, the second since Saddam Hussein was ousted in the US-led invasion of 2003, comes less than six months before the United States is set to withdraw all of its combat troops from Iraq.
An ally of the incumbent charged on Thursday that the count had been plagued by widespread fraud and demanded a nationwide recount.
“There has been clear manipulation inside the election commission in the interests of a certain or a specific list,” said Adeeb, a candidate for State of Law in the predominantly Shiite central province of Karbala.
“State of Law demands the counting process be repeated to be sure that there has been no manipulation.”
Adeeb described Iraqiya’s progress as “like a miracle”.
His remarks were a marked departure from Maliki’s own just days earlier, when he dismissed allegations of fraud as “very small” on television in his first public appearance since his office announced he had undergone surgery for an unspecified ailment.
Overall, Allawi held a slim lead in the count, with 2,102,981 votes against 2,093,997 for the State of Law alliance.
However, State of Law leads in Baghdad, Iraq’s largest province accounting for more than twice as many seats as any other, as well as in southern oil province of Basra, the third biggest.
It is also ahead in five other mostly Shiite central and southern provinces, but failed to finish in the top three in all but one of Iraq’s Sunni-majority provinces.
Allawi’s Iraqiya coalition, on the other hand, was leading in four provinces, including the second biggest province Nineveh. It was also in a virtual tie for the lead in a fifth, Kirkuk, where it was ahead of a Kurdish bloc by only six votes.
It was placed in the top three in six predominantly Shiite provinces where Maliki was either first or second.
The Iraqi National Alliance, a coalition led by Shiite religious groups is set to come in third with 67 seats, while Kurdistania, comprised of the autonomous Kurdish region’s two long-dominant parties, is likely to have 38.
Iraq’s system of proportional representation makes it unlikely that any single group will clinch the 163 seats needed to form a government on its own, and protracted coalition building is likely.
Both State of Law and Iraqiya have said they have begun talks with rival blocs to form a government, with analysts warning that political groupings could still manoeuvre to form a coalition without either list.
Complete election results are expected around March 18, and final results — after all complaints have been investigated and ruled upon — are likely by the end of the month.
“We need several more days to announce the final results,” Qassim al-Abboudi, an election official, told a news conference on Tuesday, explaining that the appeals process would take about two weeks after full results were published.
Security officials have expressed concern that a lengthy period of coalition building could give insurgent groups and Al-Qaeda an opportunity to further destabilise Iraq.