By Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, March 12, 2010; A06
BAGHDAD -- Preliminary election results indicate that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's slate won two southern provinces in Sunday's parliamentary elections, Iraqi officials said Thursday, as they contended with continued allegations of fraud and complaints about disqualified candidates.
A rival coalition, the secular Iraqiya list led by former prime minister Ayad Allawi, made a strong showing in two northern provinces and is likely to become an influential force in the next government.
But the results -- from five of Iraq's 18 provinces -- are far from conclusive because they do not include Baghdad, which has the most seats in parliament, and other key areas.
The tenor of the fraud accusations suggests the government formation process will be protracted and acrimonious.
Iraqiya leaders held a news conference at which they presented what they called evidence of fraud on election day and suggested that Maliki's team might be trying to influence Iraq's electoral commission as votes are being counted. "We feel there were a number of attempts to change the outcome," said Falah al-Naqib of Iraqiya. "The government is putting a lot of pressure on the commission."
With more than 30 percent of the vote tallied in the southern provinces of Najaf and Babil, Maliki appeared to carve out a narrow victory over a rival coalition of Shiite parties. He was part of that coalition when he was elected to parliament in 2005, but he later built his own faction.
In Babil, Maliki's State of Law slate won nearly 42 percent of the more than 160,000 votes tallied so far, officials said. In Najaf, the slate won 47 percent of more than 116,000 votes counted. In both provinces, the rival Iraqi National Alliance, a coalition of mostly Shiite parties, placed second, while Iraqiya was running third.
In Diyala province, north of Baghdad, Iraqiya was ahead with more than 42,000 votes of the 17 percent of ballots tallied. The coalition was also winning in Salahuddin province, with more than 34,000 votes of the 17 percent counted so far. In Irbil, a province in Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region, the area's two ruling parties got more than 96,000 votes. With nearly 28 percent of votes tallied, the breakaway Change party was a distant second, with just over 20,000 votes.
In Iraq's system, voters elect lawmakers who then form a parliamentary coalition and appoint a prime minister.
It was not clear why Iraq's electoral commission did not release more comprehensive results Thursday. Officials had initially said they would release results from 30 percent of the nationwide vote on Wednesday but then delayed that announcement by a day. Then, on Thursday evening, officials at Iraq's High Electoral Commission released only the results from the five provinces.
Adding to the intrigue, Maliki's office said the prime minister had recently undergone surgery of an undisclosed nature. Maliki was released from the hospital in "good health," his office said. It did not say when the surgery took place.
Correspondent Leila Fadel and special correspondent Qais Mizher contributed to this report.