02/06/2009, 00.00
IRAQ
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In provincial elections secular parties win, religious parties lose big

After 90 per cent of votes counted Prime Minister Maliki’s party wins in Baghdad and Basra. The premier and his allies also win in ten of 14 provinces where voting took place. Claims of vote rigging in the Sunni west are made. UN secretary general makes a surprise visit today in Iraq.
Baghdad (AsiaNews/ Agencies) – Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's political bloc (State of Law) and allies swept to victory in last Sunday’s provincial elections in Iraq. Although Maliki’s party failed to get an absolute majority, the results will strengthen his government. The results were a major blow to Iraq’s largest Shiite religious party, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC). And the picture that is emerging from results released by the Independent High Electoral Commission (IGEC) point towards the secularisation of Iraqi politics as voters chose nationalist parties, good government and the fight against corruption in lieu of radical religious movements. Elections were held in 14 of Iraq’s 18 provinces.

IGEC head Faraj al-Haidary announced yesterday that 90 per cent of the votes cast had been counted, but final results to assign the 440 seats up for grabs will be made public only in three weeks time because of complex voting rules on how to allocate seats. The newly elected provincial councils will then elect each provincial governor.

In Baghdad and Basra the success of the ruling party was clear cut with 38 per cent of the vote, followed by Muqtada al-Sadr’s radical Shia group and a Sunni party with 9 per cent each. In 10 of the 14 provinces Al-Maliki’s allies won. By contrast, the SIIC only got 5.4 per cent in the capital and a bit more in Basra where it came in second at 11.6 per cent.

In many other southern provinces, including Najaf, the victory of the prime minister’s coalition was less obvious. It does however set the stage for possible future coalitions as the country prepared for upcoming parliamentary elections, scheduled for later this year.

In Nineveh Governatorate a Sunni nationalist party came in first with 38.4 per cent of the vote, followed by the Kurdish Alliance with 25.5.

In the 2005 parliamentary elections Sunni voters had boycotted the vote, causing tensions that eventually led to violence and attacks. With this election conflict should move to the political arena and this could prove decisive in providing the area with greater security.

Allegations of vote rigging in the western, predominantly Sunni province of Anbar are the only discordant note heard so far.

Initial results there indicate that a based Sunni bloc came in first. Formed two years by local tribes who coalesced to fight al-Qaeda, this movement has been critical of Maliki’s government.

Still the relative calm that has prevailed in the country following the release of official results is another positive sign that Iraq is well on its way towards stabilisation.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon made a surprise visit to Baghdad today for a series of meeting with the country’s leaders. The provincial election results were the main issue on the table.

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