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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 21 November 2018

Iraq's PM congratulates Moqtada Al Sadr on election performance 

With final tally delayed, Haider Al Abadi contacts the Shiite cleric whose bloc has taken the largest vote share
An Iraqi voter has her biometric voting card checked with her fingerprint upon arriving at a poll station for the parliamentary elections in the northern multi-ethnic city of Kirkuk on May 12, 2018, Marwan Ibrahim / AFP

Iraq Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi telephoned Moqtada Al Sadr on Tuesday in what appeared to be a political concession after the Shiite cleric took the largest number of parliamentary seats in the country's election.

Final results have been delayed amid allegations of vote rigging in northern Iraq, with some Kurdish parties demanding a re-run of the weekend's poll.

A statement from Mr Al Sadr’s office said the premier praised the cleric for helping to foster “a secure, democratic atmosphere,” during the campaign and vote.

Sadr's Marching Towards Reform alliance of Shiite nationals and Iraqi communists cobbled together a broad coalition with the aim of entering government and rooting out endemic corruption.

Responding to Mr Abadi’s comments, Mr Al Sadr described his victory as “an achievement for the Iraqi people and its national entitlement."

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Iraq elections:

Analysis: Rise of Moqtada Al Sadr upsets US calculations in Iraq

Iraqi PM ready to 'co-operate' after election upset

Comment: Whatever shape of post-election alliances emerge, the new government faces challenges

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Preliminary results indicated that Sadr's bloc was poised to take some 54 of the chamber's 328 seats. Hadi Al Ameri’s Fatah coalition set to take 47 seats while Prime Minister Abadi's Victory alliance was set to take 42, with Vice President Nouri Al Maliki's State of Law list expected to take 25 seats. The remaining seats are held by a plethora of small parties.

The factions will now attempt to negotiate a coalition with a minimum of 165 seats needed to form a government.

Electronic voting was used across the country for the first time in Saturday’s parliamentary election in an effort to secure the process. However, parties at stations across the north-east reported that broken voting machines prevented people casting ballots before the polls closed at 6 pm. Many have said that this was intentional to swing the outcome.

Six Kurdish parties along with the Wataniya bloc, led by Iraq Vice President Ayad Allawi, have demanded a re-run of the election in the Kurdistan region, parts of Ninewa and Kirkuk.

Vote-rigging allegations led to gunfights between supporters of rival parties on the streets of the Kurdish city of Sulaymaniyah soon after the polls closed.

“The electoral system has been hacked by some parties and the results will serve the Kurdish Regional Government’s interests,” Momen Yaseen Amin, a candidate on the Coalition for Democracy and Justice in Iraqi Kurdistan told The National.

“Many of my close friends and family voted for me, however, when the results were announced I did not receive any votes,” Mr Amin said.

Kurdish opposition parties, some backed by gunmen, are demanding another vote. With tensions in the area already high, some in the Kurdish-majority area fear a factional battle.

In a joint statement released on Sunday, the Kurdish parties threatened to take “political action” in Baghdad and seek support from neighbouring countries if their demands were not met.

Although Saturday’s election was largely peaceful, less than half of the country’s 24.5 million voters headed to polling stations – the lowest turnout since the country’s first multi-party elections in 2005.

Voter turnout was 44.52 per cent with 92 per cent of votes counted, the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) said on Sunday.

Allawi’s Wataniya bloc demanded the election result be annulled and urged the establishment of an emergency provisional government.

“The voter turnout was poor and in some areas where the elections were held, militias prevented people from voting or forced them to vote for certain lists,” a spokeswoman for Wataniya told The National. “The IHEC should have at least dismissed the results in those areas where voters' were forced. The commission must be changed so that future votes are held under better conditions.”

More than 15 bloody years since the ouster of former dictator Saddam Hussein, there is deep scepticism of the country’s political elite who are seen as corrupt and sectarian.

In the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, Governor Rakan Al Jubouri and the head of the Turkmen Front, Arshad Al Salehi, also demanded a manual vote recount, citing issues with electronic polling machines.

“Tension in Kirkuk is increasing, Arabs and Turkmens have taken their frustrations to the streets to demonstrate for their rights,” Mr Al Salehi told The National.