BAGHDAD: Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki said yesterday he had enough support to build a coalition government after elections a day earlier, but insisted he would not cling to the job.
Maliki, seeking a third term following his country’s first polls since US troops withdrew, faces significant opposition from within his own Shiite community, as well as from minority Sunni Arabs and Kurds.
He has been criticised over a marked deterioration in security as well as rampant corruption, high unemployment and what his rivals say has been insufficient improvement in basic services.
But with vote counting only just started and final results not expected for at least two weeks, he said “we have an ability to pass the 165 (seat threshold)” required to form a majority government.
“We have confidence that we will achieve a political majority,” he added. Following elections in 2005 and 2010, Iraqi leaders agreed to national unity governments that included all of the major parties and communal groups, but Maliki has vowed not to pursue such a track again. “I am warning against going back to the (sectarian) quotas, and I will not be part of it,” he said.
The premier insisted he was willing to give up the post if he was unable to form a government, saying: “My mother did not give birth to me as a minister or a prime minister.” “I am not interested in this subject (of being prime minister),” he said, before adding: “At the same time... if I were the choice, I would consider myself obliged to respond.”
Maliki’s bloc is tipped to win the most seats, but the consensus among analysts is that no single party will gain an outright majority. Consequently, Iraq’s various political alliances and communal groups will have to form coalitions.
Complicating matters further is the fact that the three main positions of power — the president, typically a Kurd, the prime minister, normally a Shiite, and the speaker of parliament, usually a Sunni Arab — are often negotiated as an encompassing package.
Maliki’s critics have accused him of concentrating power and marginalising the Sunni minority, and say public services have not sufficiently improved during his eight-year rule.
He contends that the violence is fuelled by the conflict in neighbouring Syria and has accused Sunni Saudi Arabia and Qatar of backing insurgents.
Wednesday’s election was hailed by the United Nations and the White House, with US President Barack Obama saying the vote demonstrated Iraq’s embrace of democracy despite “enormous challenges”.
Vote counting was under way yesterday after Iraqis braved a wave of attacks to cast ballots in elections. Preliminary results are not expected for at least two weeks. Initial figures from the election commission said about 60 percent of Iraq’s 20 million eligible voters cast ballots. The turnout in the last election, in March 2010, was 62 percent. General election, the first since US troops withdrew in late 2011, took place as more violence rocked the country, with 14 people killed during the day, including two election workers.
But a security clampdown meant violence levels were lower than in the preceding two days, when in all nearly 90 people died, with Washington and the United Nations hailing the vote as a broadside to extremists trying to derail the political process.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said Iraqis had “courageously voted”, sending “a powerful rebuke to the violent extremists” in Iraq and the region.
The UN Security Council urged Iraq’s leaders to form a government “that represents the will and sovereignty of the Iraqi people” as soon as possible.
The Security Council, in a statement, stressed “no act of violence or terrorism can reverse a path towards peace, democracy and reconstruction in Iraq, underpinned by the rule of law and respect for human rights, which is supported by the people and the government of Iraq and the international community”.