Published: Tue, May 15, 2018
Global News | By Stacy Ballard

Firebrand cleric Muqtada Sadr's alliance holds a surprise lead in Iraq elections

Firebrand cleric Muqtada Sadr's alliance holds a surprise lead in Iraq elections

With most votes counted, a bloc headed by cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and another led by a militia leader are ahead, the BBC quoted poll officials as saying.

Abadi was widely seen as the front-runner.

Iraqi Shia Muslim leader Muqtada al-Sadr is shown in a December 2017 file photo. While going from that to a 165-seat majority is a long road, Sadr's election performance, and decisive victory in Baghdad district, shows a major shift in Iraqi politics.

On Monday evening, Abadi called for all parties and citizens to respect the results of the May 12 election.

A Sadr-led government could be a big change in Iraq's regional alignment. Sadr, by contrast, has staked out an independent, nationalist position.

Sadr was not a candidate for Parliament and can not himself be elected prime minister. But even then, his bloc might not necessarily form the next government.

The nationwide popular vote does not directly correspond to the amount of seats each list gains in parliament.

Security and commission sources had earlier said he was leading the election, which was held on Saturday and is the first since the defeat of Islamic State militants inside the country. The group overran a third of Iraq in 2014.

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As electoral officials announced preliminary results late Sunday, Sadr supporters gathered in Baghdad's Tahrir Square to celebrate.

The electoral commission said it would release the remainder of the results on Tuesday.

Voter turnout was 44.5%, had voted more than 10 million Iraqis.

The ballots of some 700,000 security personnel who voted and Iraqis overseas were yet to be tallied up, meaning Abadi could get a boost five months after he announced victory over IS.

In a 2010 election, Vice-President Ayad Allawi's group won the largest number of seats, albeit with a narrow margin, but he was blocked from becoming premier, for which he blamed Tehran. Iran has publicly stated it will not allow his bloc to govern.

Remembered for leading an insurgency against US forces and inciting sectarian bloodshed against the Sunni population, al-Sadr has in recent years sought to recast himself as a populist, railing against corruption and failing services and striking a political alliance with Iraq's secularists and Communist Party.

The process of choosing the next prime minister is expected to take months and will likely result in power being dispersed across different political parties with clashing interests.

Since the first elections after the fall of Hussein in 2003, Iraqi voters have rarely strayed from their political bases, dutifully supporting candidates representing narrow religious or political beliefs.

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"Everybody is welcome to provide support to Iraq, but not at the expense of its sovereignty and independence", he added. His allies campaigned on issues such as easing poverty, improving public services and combating corruption.

"This vote is a clear message that the people want to change the system of governance that has produced corruption and weakened state institutions", said Fahmy.

The winners not only scramble the pyramid of power in Iraq but also raise the possibility of a government with radically new priorities. Endemic corruption has eaten at the government's financial resources.

He derives much of his authority from his family.

Celebrations erupted in Baghdad's Sadr City, an impoverished quarter that is home to about 3 million people and is named after the cleric's father, Ayatollah Mohammed Sadeq al-Sadr, who was killed by suspected agents of Saddam Hussein in 1999. "Bye bye, Nouri al-Maliki", many of them chanted.

The election came as the country deals with the disenfranchisement of the country's Sunni minority.

A Pentagon spokesman told Eric Pahon that the USA government does not support any particular Iraqi candidate or party. If parliament does grant him a second term, Abadi will remain under pressure to maintain the balancing act between Washington and Tehran.

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