BAGHDAD — Secular Muslim politician Ayad Allawi Friday won Iraq's landmark parliamentary election by just two seats, defeating incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, who immediately repeated his demands for a recount and warned that the outcome "is not final."
Allawi's Iraqiya coalition won 91 of the next parliament's 325 seats, compared to 89 for Maliki's State of Law alliance, according to Iraq’s independent election commission. It was unclear who won the popular vote in the March 7 election, but Iraq's electoral law says the coalition that wins the province-by-province seat count is the one that will form the next government
Two hours before the long-awaited announcement, twin bombings ripped through a crowded marketplace north of Baghdad, killing 42 people and wounding at least 65 others in an illustration of the still-fragile security situation the next government will inherit as U.S. forces prepare for a full withdrawal by the end of next year.
The results ended a tense and drawn-out vote-counting process that was fraught with allegations of fraud and intimations of violence. Members of Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission, the parliament-appointed panel accused of partisanship and inefficiency in the tabulation process, said they acted without bias and urged all parties to accept the results as fair.
"To cast doubts upon this effort is not in the best interest of anyone. It will backfire and this is something no one wants," Faraj al Haidari, the electoral commission’s chairman, said at the televised announcement of results. "Let's all instead put our hands together and unite in the face of those who want to bring down this structure."
In recent days, Maliki and his supporters had grown vocal in their allegations of vote manipulation and had asked for a manual recount, a move the commission rejected as unfeasible and unnecessary. Small pro-Maliki protests had sprung up in southern Iraq, widely interpreted as a warning of more unrest if the prime minister's alliance didn't end up in the lead.
Ad Melkert, the United Nations envoy to Iraq, also urged Iraq's political parties to accept the results, saying the vote tallies were credible despite "imperfections and at some places, serious issues." Melkert said the results of about 50,000 voting stations were checked at least eight times, adding that complaints were addressed, irregularities were audited and ballot boxes that didn’t meet standards were thrown out.
"We have not found evidence of systematic failure or fraud of widespread nature," Melkert said.
(This story will be updated.)