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Iraqis begin vote on who to support for prime minister

From Mohammed Tawfeeq, CNN
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Political jockeying in Iraq
  • Iraqis participating in non-binding vote called by radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr
  • Al-Sadr hoping his supporters will influence who is designated prime minister
  • Iraqiya bloc of Ayad Allawi inched past PM Nuri al-Maliki's coalition to win the election
  • Close election result has intensified political jockeying among all parties

Baghdad, Iraq (CNN) -- Tens of thousands of people in Iraq began an informal, non-binding vote Friday that could influence the decision on who will be the country's new prime minister.

The vote being carried out in tents set up in the streets of Baghdad and some southern provinces was called by radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Al-Sadr has refused to back the top vote-getters in the March 7 election and is asking his followers to designate a prime minister of their choosing in a referendum this weekend.

The vote, being organized by around 40,000 al-Sadr supporters, will in no way play any official role in the ultimate outcome of who gets to govern, but it could signal just how seriously al-Sadr needs to be taken by whomever assumes power in Iraq.

Video: Iraq election results
Video: Protesters call for recount

Political jockeying among all parties has intensified after the announcement of extremely close election results.

The Iraqiya bloc of Ayad Allawi won 91 seats, a razor-thin victory over the State of the Law coalition of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, which gained 89 seats, according to the provisional results.

At least 163 seats are needed to form a government. As a result of being at the top of the balloting, both Allawi and al-Maliki are working to form coalition governments and are reaching out to entities like al-Sadr's group.

Al-Sadr's party, which gained at least 39 seats in the voting, is a member of the Iraqi National Alliance, the Shiite bloc that received 70 seats.

The five people al-Sadr has asked his followers to chose from in Friday and Saturday's vote are frontrunners al-Maliki, and Allawi, along with former prime minister Ibraheem al-Jafari of the National Iraqi Alliance bloc, Jaffar Mohammed Baqir al-Sadr of the State of Law bloc and Vice President Adil Abdul Mahdi of the Iraqi National Alliance bloc.