Cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, a Shia cleric, has secured the strongest showing in Iraq’s parliamentary election, sweeping aside key competitors including the prime minister and the incumbent president, officials said on Sunday.
Sadr, who led the Islamic resistance against the US occupation of Iraq, took 44% of the vote, ahead of Haider al-Abadi, the former prime minister, who won 34% of the vote, according to figures from the electoral commission.
Sunday’s results have been delayed as the electoral commission tries to reconcile rival claims over irregular voting and results manipulation, although official results are expected in a week.
Sadr is a prominent militia leader who subsequently emerged as a populist politician. When he originally backed Abadi to succeed former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki in 2014, he was instrumental in pushing for key concessions from the prime minister including granting amnesty to former militants.
The first results issued by Iraq’s electoral commission were based on a partial count, conducted in 40% of the country’s provinces and in Baghdad. The final results will only be released once the electoral commission has finished tallying and confirming claims of irregularities.
As well as claiming victory for Sadr, the commission also posted results for the most contested province, Anbar, where security forces ejected protesters earlier this month from a Baghdad headquarters of parliament and arrested the leading candidate. The electoral commission said Abdul Ghani al-Dulaimi won the state of the provinces vote but was not eligible to compete in Anbar.
Maliki, who governed Iraq between 2006 and 2010, won the state of the cities vote.
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His spokesperson, Ali al-Moussawi, called the results “improper and unfair”, saying they were based on a “collusion between the judiciary and the electoral commission”.
Many in Iraq believed that Maliki, who wanted to run a coalition government with Abadi but was stopped from doing so by Sadr, would find it difficult to win sufficient support to form a government.
The Shiite cleric, whose real name is Sheikh Mohammed Sadeq al-Sadr, started his own political party in 2014. During the campaign, he delivered a speech in which he accused the country’s political elite of corruption, demanding officials be imprisoned or referred to the international criminal court. He gave three examples of the corruption he claimed was taking place: a cash-for-votes scheme in the oil-rich southern province of Basra, the sale of passports for $1,000 and a scheme that paid more than $15,000 to each primary school child in Baghdad province.
During the campaign, Sadr said he would offer his candidacy to the international community to form a government and pointed out that he had an electoral alliance with the secular party Iraqiya, whose support previously enabled Maliki to create the 2014 national unity government.
Fitzgerald Almeida (@afalias67) I heard Moqtada al-Sadr make a conditional offer to the West that it could form a government with him after Sunday’s elections. He also called on those who were bribed to vote for them to take their money back https://t.co/GHcta3ZcNf
Sadr also said his Sadrist Movement, which garnered almost a third of the vote, was ready to support a broader-based alliance should Abadi fail to secure enough votes. Sadr’s movement would instead accept the presidency, which went to Ahmad al-Assadi.