Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who described a high turnout in nationwide elections as a “slap in the face of terrorism,” said on Thursday he had enough support to build a coalition government after elections a day earlier.
Maliki is seeking a third term following his country’s first polls since U.S. troops withdrew.
He faces significant opposition from within his own Shiite community, as well as from minority Sunni Arabs and Kurds.
He has been criticized over a marked deterioration in security as well as rampant corruption, high unemployment and what his rivals say has been insufficient improvement in basic services.
But with vote counting having only just started and final results not expected for at least two weeks, he said “we have an ability to pass the 165 (seat threshold)” required to form a majority government.
He added: “We have confidence that we will achieve a political majority.”
Following elections in 2005 and 2010, Iraqi leaders agreed to national unity governments that included all of the major parties and communal groups, but Maliki has vowed not to pursue such a track again.
“I am warning against going back to the [sectarian] quotas, and I will not be part of it,” he said.
The premier insisted he was willing to give up the post if he was unable to form a government, saying: “My mother did not give birth to me as a minister or a prime minister.”
“I am not interested in this subject [of being prime minister],” he said, before adding: “At the same time... if I were the choice, I would consider myself obliged to respond.”
Maliki, whose bloc won 89 seats in the last election, claimed the fact there was relatively little violence on election day was a blow to al-Qaeda and a splinter group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
“It was a slap in the face of terrorism,” the 63-year-old prime minister said.
Maliki’s bloc is tipped to win the most seats, but the consensus among analysts is that no single party will gain an outright majority. Consequently, Iraq’s various political alliances and communal groups will have to form coalitions.
Complicating matters further is the fact that the three main positions of power - the president, typically a Kurd, the prime minister, normally a Shiite, and the speaker of parliament, usually a Sunni Arab - are often negotiated as an encompassing package.
Maliki’s critics have accused him of concentrating power and marginalizing the Sunni minority, and say public services have not sufficiently improved during his eight-year rule.
He contends that the violence is fueled by the conflict in neighboring Syria and has accused Sunni Saudi Arabia and Qatar of backing insurgents.
U.N., U.S. hail elections
Wednesday's election was hailed by the United Nations and the White House, with U.S. President Barack Obama saying the vote demonstrated Iraq’s embrace of democracy despite “enormous challenges.”
“Millions of Iraqis embraced their democratic right to vote,” the president said in a statement following Wednesday’s vote.
“The people of Iraq know better than anyone else the enormous challenges that they face, and yesterday’s turnout demonstrated to the world that they seek to pursue a more stable and peaceful future through the political process.”
Obama said the election would serve to “unite the country through the formation of a new government that is supported by all Iraqi communities and that is prepared to advance tangible and implementable programs.”
The U.S. president pledged “the United States will continue to stand with the Iraqi people as partners in their pursuit of a peaceful, unified and prosperous future.”
(With AFP and Associated Press)