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Iraqi cleric al-Sadr’s list leads in early vote results

Published: Updated:

Influential Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is the early front-runner in national elections, with official results in from just over half of the country's provinces.

Sadr’s list is known as ‘Sairoon’ in Arabic, or ‘On The Move’.

Iraq’s election commission announced on Monday that Sadr’s list, is leading the results in Baghdad, Wasit province, Muthanna, Diyala and Dhi Qar province.

The announcement on Sunday night comes a day after polls closed across Iraq. The results are from 10 of the country’s 19 provinces, including Baghdad and Basra.

An alliance of candidates with close ties to Iraq’s powerful Shiite paramilitary groups are in a close second while Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has performed poorly across majority Shiite provinces that should have been his base of support.

The election was marked by record low turnout. It was the first since Iraq declared victory over the ISIS group and the fourth since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

The election commission said the results of the first national parliamentary election are expected within two days.

The vote on Saturday saw a record low turnout, with 44 percent of eligible voters casting ballots. No election since 2003 has had turnout below 60 percent. More than 10 million Iraqis voted.

Polling station officials blamed the low turnout on a combination of tight security measures, voter apathy and irregularities linked to a new electronic voting system.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is running to keep his post. His chief rivals are political parties with closer ties to Iran, as well as the influential cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, a staunch nationalist who campaigned against government corruption.

Abadi, a rare ally of both the United States and Iran, was mainly concerned with fending off Shi'ite groups other than Sadr's alliance, which are seeking to pull the country closer to Tehran.

Unofficial results compiled by Reuters reporters in southern provinces also indicated that Sadr, a firebrand cleric who led a violent uprising against US troops from 2003-2011, appeared to be making a strong showing.

Sadr's strong showing marks a surprise comeback by the cleric. He is popular among the poor but has been sidelined by influential Iranian-backed figures.

The balloting is expected to be a referendum on Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s tenure and his pledge to be more inclusive of Iraq’s Sunni minority.

Voting on Saturday ended at 6pm and the turnout in was 44.52 percent with 92 percent of the votes counted, the electoral commission said.

No election since 2003 saw turnout below 60 percent. More than ten million Iraqis voted.

Results are expected within 48 hours, according to the electoral commission.

“Tomorrow (Sunday), all papers will be sent to check the results,” the commission said.

“All the rumors in the media about manipulation or falsification are unfounded,” the official said. “There are parties that are trying to mix the papers and confuse the Iraqi public opinion.”

The governor of Iraq’s Kirkuk province declared a curfew on Saturday and ordered a manual recount of votes there in the national election, saying an electronic counting system had produced an “illogical” result.

Rakan al-Jubouri, governor of the northern oil-rich region, announced a curfew from midnight until 6 am to prevent any ethnic or sectarian tension between its Kurdish, Arab and ethnic Turkmen communities.

Al-Jubouri did not elaborate in his statement on the problem with the vote-counting system.

Issues

Entrenched corruption, the influence of Iran and the future of US forces currently in Iraq are other issues that have dominated the run-up to the election. There are 329 seats at stake, with nearly 7,000 candidates from dozens of different political alliances.

Few foresee a dramatic government shake-up, however. The most powerful alliances expected to win the most seats are headed by the same parties that have dominated Iraqi politics since 2003.