x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Allawi's Iraqia wins election

Sunnis celebrate as Allawi is declared winner over incumbent prime minister, three weeks after poll.

BAGHDAD // Ayad Allawi's political bloc, Iraqia, was declared the winner of the most number of seats in the new parliament last night, a stunning blow to the prime minister Nouri al Maliki's State of Law coalition that puts Mr Allawi in a strong position to be Iraq's next prime minister. Almost three weeks after the poll on March 7, during which allegations of fraud were bandied about on all sides, final results were announced in Baghdad's Al Rashid hotel, with 89 of the Council of Representatives' 325 seats being awarded to Mr al Maliki's State of Law coalition and 91 to the Iraqia list, which campaigned on a platform of secularism and nationalism.

Each side will now try to form a coalition with Shiite- or Kurdish-led parties, or even with each other, to form the majority required to name the new prime minister, but the Iraqia advantage is a severe blow to Mr al Maliki's campaign. His State of Law party had warned that violence could erupt if there was no recount. Mr al Maliki yesterday called on the Independent High Electoral Commission to listen to the demands of political blocs, saying "This is not the final results."

His words stood in stark contrast to those of the UN special representative for Iraq, Ad Melkert, who declared the election "credible", offered congratulations to the people and said that the poll had been thoroughly audited and that all parties should accept the results. Despite heavy rain, Sunni areas of Baghdad were filled with the sound of firecrackers and celebratory gunfire last night, as Mr Allawi had drawn much of his support from Sunnis.

The results came at the end of a week that had seen State of Law mobilising popular support for a recount. State of Law supporters in the Shiite heartlands of southern Iraq were urged to call for a manual recount of votes, after Mr Maliki's party fell behind as partial results were released. Local State of Law politicians released a statement warning of "escalations" if there were no recount while electoral candidates said that the "will of the people" to recount the votes must be respected".

However, analysts said Mr Maliki, who won respect for security gains but drew criticism for authoritarian methods, did not have the authority to force a recount. "I do not think Maliki has any authority over the committee of the elections," said Dr Wamidh Nadhmi, a political scientist at Baghdad University, adding, "I don't think there will be a great deal of riots because it seems to me that most groups are in agreement on putting an end to Maliki ruling over Iraq."

In Baghdad, where votes were split between Mr Maliki, Mr Alawi and Shiite-led religious groups, concerns mounted that the society was splintered politically, and the splits more deeply entrenched by vicious post-electoral political fighting. At Friday prayers at the Alrasoul mosque, Sayyed Mohamad al Hasani, the imam, said: "Whatever the results will be, we call people to deal with any situation wisely and to be careful.

"Iraq now is a democratic country and better than many countries in the region. Iraq will not be back to the dark period of oppression and dictatorship." Some worshippers, however, were sceptical about the election results and agreed that the poll had split society. "The elections divided people," Saad Hashim, 50, said. "We think that there is fraud in the elections. Why do they not recount the vote manually?"

The country's security forces had been on high alert all day, and the defence minister had been recalled from Amman earlier in the week in the hopes of preventing political unrest. Just as the results were being announced, bombs exploded in Khales in Diyala province, north of Baghdad, killing more than 40 people. * The National