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Updated: March 25, 2010 16:49 IST

Slim margin separates Iraq’s top election blocs

AP
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Supporters of Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, seen in the poster, chant anti-Baathist slogans at a protest in Karbala, Iraq, on Wednesday. Hundreds of residents protested, demanding a manual recount of the election results. Photo: AP.
Supporters of Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, seen in the poster, chant anti-Baathist slogans at a protest in Karbala, Iraq, on Wednesday. Hundreds of residents protested, demanding a manual recount of the election results. Photo: AP.

The leading blocs in Iraq’s March 7 parliamentary election are separated by a slim margin of one or two seats, the head of the country’s election commission said on Thursday, one day ahead of the release of the final vote tallies.

Independent High Electoral Commission chief Faraj al—Haidari also told The Associated Press that vote tallying in the historic vote was complete and that the commission was expected to sort through dozens of outstanding electoral complaints by the end of the day before announcing the full results on Friday.

He said candidates will then have three days starting Saturday to appeal the results.

In the overall tally after 95 percent of the votes counted, Prime Minister Nouri al—Maliki’s coalition narrowly trails a bloc led by former prime minister Ayad Allawi.

Mr. Al—Haidari declined to say which side looked set to take the largest number of seats in the 325—member legislature, only acknowledging that the race was close.

“The difference between the leader and the second place will be one to two seats,” he said.

Though behind his rival in the overall vote tally, Mr. al—Maliki’s coalition is ahead in seven of Iraq’s 18 provinces, compared to Mr. Allawi’s five. That is significant because the allocation of parliament’s seats is based on votes counted province by province and not nationwide. The number of lawmakers sent by each province to parliament varies according to their population.

Such a narrow victory could intensify political tensions.

Iraq’s president, Jalal Talabani, on Sunday called for a recount to “preclude any doubt and misunderstanding” about the results. He said he was issuing the call as president in the interest of justice and transparency, though the Kurdish leader’s own coalition is losing to Mr. Allawi’s secular alliance in a key province.

The electoral commission, an independent body appointed by parliament, has rejected calls for a recount. The panel submits its results only to the country’s supreme court for ratification.

A recount or a protracted election dispute could complicate the seating of a new government. In Iraq’s fledgling democracy, such periods of political instability have often been accompanied by a spike in violence, as debates not settled at the negotiating table are taken to the streets.

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