04/30/2014, 00.00
IRAQ
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For Chaldean Patriarch, "all Iraqis were united" by the election's purple ink

by Joseph Mahmoud
Mar Sako highlights high voter turnout in a festive atmosphere, as well as the presence of about a hundred Christians and 80 women among those running for office. He hopes the poll will lead to "reconciliation and stability." Outgoing Prime Minister al-Maliki is expected to win although questions remain about the size of his victory and the forming of a new government.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) - All Iraqis were "ideally and materially united" by dipping their fingers in purple ink in an electoral process "that went smoothly and quietly". "I went to the polling station with my auxiliary [bishop] and secretary at a hotel in the Green Zone and voted without a hitch," said Chaldean Patriarch Raphael Louis Sako I as he spoke to AsiaNews about today's parliamentary election.

More than 22 million Iraqis were eligible to vote in the country's third parliamentary elections since the fall of Saddam Hussein, the first since the withdrawal of US troops.

For His Beatitude, many voters would rather elect "liberal candidates, not linked to confessional groups". Still, noting the importance of a "hundred Christian and 80 women candidates", he is conscious that their chances are limited.

So far, the turnout among soldiers and police was 91 per cent, a good omen; the same cannot be said for Iraqis living abroad: only 20 per cent of them turned out to vote.

Yet, for Mar Sako, the election has already had a positive impact because "we have seen so many people go to the polls" with "long queues" waiting to cast their ballot. This is a sign of a "great turnout."

"We hope," he added, "that these elections will unite the hearts of Iraqis and lead to reconciliation and stability". Indeed, the Chaldean Patriarch is pleased that the "great turnout" occurred in an atmosphere of relative safety. "I did not hear any explosions," he noted, "but I did hear people partying full of high hopes."

After the vote, ordinary Iraqis will want to see "a new political Magna Charta to renew the state, build new infrastructures, and improve schools and health care."

The goal is to bring to life a "project of citizenship, thanks to liberal-minded lawmakers who have a positive attitude towards religion, and the presence of women".

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who leads a Shia-dominated coalition, is the great favourite. He is hoping to win a third term in office.

Despite sporadic incidents of violence, imposing security measures have ensured a smooth voting process.

In the capital, the streets are almost all empty because of a lockdown. Voters had to walk to polling stations because the authorities had banned cars in an effort to stop suicide attacks and car bombers.

Compared to the 2010 elections, the atmosphere this time was one of relative calm. Four years ago, voting in the capital Baghdad had been marred by a series of explosions.

Now that the polls are closed, it will take weeks however before all the results are counted. It will take even longer to form a new government. Last time, nearly 10 months went by before a government was assembled.

According to many political analysts, no party is likely to win an outright majority. Forming a government may be hard even if Maliki's State of Law alliance wins the most seats as expected.

Still, the incumbent prime minister is confident and his "expectations are high".

"Our victory is certain," Maliki said, "but we are waiting to see the size of our victory."

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