Moqtada al-Sadr, in surprise comeback, seems set to win Iraq election

Sadr wins 54 seats with 1.3m votes; Amiri wins 47 seats with 1.2m votes; Abadi wins 42 seats with 1m votes

BAGHDAD

Nationalist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, a long-time adversary of the United States, led in Iraq’s parliamentary election with more than half the votes counted on Monday, the electoral commission said, in a surprise turn of fortune for the Shi’ite leader.

In the first election since Islamic State was defeated in the country, Shi’ite militia chief Hadi al-Amiri’s bloc, which is backed by Iran, was in second place, while Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, once seen as the front-runner, trailed in third position.

The preliminary results were based on a count of more than 95 per cent of the votes cast in 10 of Iraq’s 18 provinces.

Unlike Abadi, a rare ally of both the United States and Iran, Sadr is an opponent of both of the countries which have wielded influence in Iraq since a US-led invasion toppled Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein and ushered the Shi’ite majority to power.

Sadr has led two uprisings against US forces in Iraq and is one of the few Shi’ite leaders to distance himself from Iran.

Portraying himself as an Iraqi nationalist, Sadr has a zealous following among the young, poor and dispossessed, but he had been sidelined by influential Iranian-backed figures.

He cannot become prime minister as he did not run in the election, though his apparent victory puts him in a position to pick someone for the job.

But even then his bloc might not necessarily form the next government since whoever wins the most seats must negotiate a coalition government in order to have a majority in parliament. The government should be formed within 90 days of the official results.

The election held on Saturday is the first since the defeat of Islamic State, with the capture of its de facto capital Mosul, last year. The group overran a third of Iraq in 2014.

Turnout was 44.52 per cent with 92 per cent of votes counted, the Independent High Electoral Commission said – that was significantly lower than in previous elections. Full results are due to be officially announced later on Monday.

Sadr and Amiri both came in first in four of the 10 provinces where votes were counted, but the cleric’s bloc won significantly more votes in the capital, Baghdad, which has the highest number of seats.

A document provided to Reuters by a candidate in Baghdad that was also circulating among journalists and analysts showed results from all 18 provinces.

Reuters could not independently verify the document’s authenticity but the results in it showed Sadr had won the nationwide popular vote with more than 1.3 million votes and gained 54 of parliament’s 329 seats.

He was followed by Amiri with more than 1.2 million votes, translating into 47 seats, and Abadi with more than 1 million votes and 42 seats, according to calculations made by Reuters based on the document. Former prime minister Nuri al-Maliki, a close ally of Iran like Amiri, came in fourth with 25 seats. Reuters

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