Iraq vote results set to put Maliki in driver’s seat

BAGHDAD - Election results due Monday are expected to put Nuri al-Maliki in the driver's seat to remain Iraq's prime minister for a third term despite vocal opposition and markedly worsening security.
The tallies from the April 30 general election, delayed for weeks due to a litany of complaints according to the electoral commission, are likely to show Maliki's bloc won the most seats in parliament but fell short of a majority.
That would mean the incumbent, who hails from Iraq's Shiite majority, would require the support of Sunni Arab and Kurdish parties.
But many of these have refused to countenance another term for Maliki, who they accuse of consolidating power and being to blame for a protracted surge in unrest, forming a significant hurdle for his re-election bid.
Iraq's electoral commission is expected to release the results, which remain subject to challenge, at 1200 GMT.
Leaked reports released by political parties and cited by Iraqi media throughout the vote counting process have said Maliki's State of Law alliance would win around 90 out of 328 seats in parliament.
A handful of smaller parties -- including those linked to former premier Iyad Allawi, powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, and Kurdish regional president Massud Barzani -- are estimated to each win between around 20 and 30 seats.
Regardless of the final results, the government formation process is expected to take months as the various parties are likely to seek an all-encompassing package, including the selection of the president and the parliament speaker.
Under a de facto agreement between Iraq's communities, the prime minister is a Shiite Arab, the president a Kurd and the parliament speaker a Sunni Arab.
Maliki's critics accuse him of consolidating power, particularly within the security forces, and blame him for a year-long deterioration in security, rampant corruption and what they say is insufficient improvement in basic services.
The election and its aftermath came amid a surge in violence that has killed more than 3,500 people this year, fuelling fears Iraq could be slipping back into the all-out conflict that cost tens of thousands of lives in 2006 and 2007.
In particular, the 63-year-old faces strong and vocal opposition in the Sunni-dominated west and the Kurdish north, with rivals there insisting they will not countenance a third term.
Maliki, though, blames external factors such as the war in neighbouring Syria for the surge in unrest and says his so-called partners in government snipe at him in public and block his legislative efforts in parliament.
The incumbent premier nevertheless has strong backing in his Shiite-majority heartland in southern Iraq.
The run-up to the vote, Iraq's first since US troops withdrew at the end of 2011, was plagued by attacks on candidates and campaign rallies, and allegations of malpractice that contributed to lower turnout in areas of the country populated by disgruntled minority Sunnis.
But it has nevertheless been hailed largely as a success by the international community, with the US and UN praising voters for standing up to militancy.