Votes are being counted after Iraq’s weekend parliamentary election, and at first glance it appears that Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s coalition lags behind those of two other influential Shia leaders.
More than 90% of the votes have been counted in 10 of Iraq’s 18 provinces, and preliminary official results show the coalition led by Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s bloc is ahead, followed by the alliance led by Hadi al-Amiri, who commanded Shia militias during the fighting against ISIS.
Abadi’s “Victory Alliance” is third, followed by that of his predecessor Nuri al-Maliki. In distant fifth is Ayad Allawi, a Shia politician who once served as interim prime minister of Iraq after Saddam Hussein was deposed, according to Iraq’s Electoral Commission.
The provinces counted so far are largely Shia and votes from the northern and northwestern provinces were still being processed. Abadi, in a bid to appeal to a wider group of voters, included candidates from all 18 provinces in his alliance, and visited regions where Shia politicians have rarely campaigned.
Iraqi election authorities were expected to announce final results Wednesday.
Abadi, who’d been at the helm of the battle that routed ISIS from its strongholds in Iraq, may now have to negotiate with his chief rivals to retain power.
Iraqis had voiced their unhappiness with the political status quo and many said they didn’t intend to vote because the majority of the leading candidates were familiar faces who’d promised change in the past but had failed to deliver.
Curfews and vehicle bans
According to the Iraqi Electoral Commission, 44% of eligible voters made it to the polling booths on Saturday. It was the first election in Iraq since the defeat of ISIS, and security remained tight across the country.
Abadi had ordered Iraq’s airspace closed on election day and banned people from driving their vehicles to allow people to walk to the polls without fear of car bombings.
Four civilians were killed in an explosion on their way to vote in the Haweja area just west of the northern city of Kirkuk on Saturday. A police official said the attack deliberately targeted civilians heading to the polling stations.
Security officials imposed a curfew from midnight to 6 a.m. Sunday in Kirkuk’s governate as a result.
Abadi later ordered the reopening of airspace and airports and lifted the ban on vehicles while authorizing security officials to impose partial bans in areas where there were threats to security.
Protesters in Kirkuk on Sunday demanded a recount of the vote held in the city that is contested between the regional Kurdish government and the central government in Baghdad.
Unofficial preliminary results showed the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) making gains in predominately Arab and Turkmen areas.
Head of the Turkmen Front in Kirkuk Arshad Salhi told CNN the city “will burn” if there is no manual recount of the vote, suggesting that counting machines had been tampered with.
Gains made by the PUK stirred unrest in other cities in primarily Kurdish areas. At least four Kurdish political parties, which made considerable gains in other Kurdish areas according to preliminary results, accused the PUK of tampering with the electronic counting in the city of Sulaymaniyah.
“We prefer to hold a manual recount of the vote throughout the Kurdish Regional Government to remove all doubts and maintain stability and security,” the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) said in a statement.
Relations have been strained between Kurdish leaders and government officials in Baghdad after a contentious independence referendum in September last year.
Once united, the Shia are now splintered
Under the power-sharing system installed after the 2003 US-led invasion, the position of prime minister is reserved for a Shia. Abadi, who’s been in power since 2014, hoped to retain the top job, but Iraq’s Shia bloc has splintered into five major coalitions.
Whoever wins will still need to reach out to other blocs, including Sunni and Kurdish coalitions, to form a governing alliance.
While Iraqis have celebrated the routing of ISIS fighters from major cities in the country’s north, they are also frustrated by the limited change they’ve seen in their daily lives.
Among their complaints are a dearth of job opportunities, a struggling economy and a crumbling infrastructure with frequent power cuts. They also lament poor government services and slow reconstruction in areas such as Tikrit, Falluja and Mosul, places that were ravaged in the fighting against ISIS.
Corruption, another major issue, is blamed by many Iraqis for their country’s failure to translate the wealth from its natural resources into a better life for all its citizens.
CNN’s Ben Wedeman, Laura Smith-Spark, Kareem Khadder, Hamdi Alkhshali, Mohammed Tawfeeq and Omar El-Hilaly contributed to this report