The secular party of Ayad Allawi, a former interim prime minister once derided as an American puppet, won a wafer-thin victory in Iraq’s election, setting the stage for a protracted period of political uncertainty and possible violence that could threaten plans to withdraw American troops.
The outcome, announced on Friday, was immediately challenged by Prime Minister Nouri Kamal al-Maliki and his supporters in the State of Law coalition, who hurled accusations of fraud and made vague references to the prime minister’s power as commander in chief.
Several parties have cried fraud as their fortunes waxed or waned in the slow vote count, an ominous reminder of an Iraqi political culture where winning is everything and compromise elusive. Western observers and an independent election commission said they saw no signs of widespread fraud.
Allawi galvanised the votes of millions of Sunnis — who boycotted the last parliamentary elections in 2005 — to build his edge of 91 to 89 seats over his nearest rival, Maliki. That falls far short of the majority of 163 of the 325 seats in Parliament that he needs to form a government.
Political experts doubted that Allawi would succeed in assembling a governing coalition. But even if he did, they said it would take at least until July, possibly even longer, a potentially destabilising stretch in which a disgruntled Maliki would serve as caretaker prime minister of the nation.