BAGHDAD – A secular coalition challenging the Iraqi prime minister in the country’s historic parliamentary elections has narrowly pulled ahead for the first time in the overall vote count, although it still trails in the crucial province-by-province count.
The Iraqiya coalition, led by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, seemed to be gaining momentum, taking a 9,000 vote lead nationwide, according to new totals released late Tuesday. But with about 20 percent of the votes still to be counted from the March 7 election, it was unclear whether that margin would give Allawi more seats in parliament, which will determine who will lead the government.
The news came as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his State of Law coalition accused election officials of manipulating vote counts and called for a re-count, a candidate from his bloc said.
The winner will be tasked with forming a government that will oversee the country as U.S. forces go home.
Crucially, with 79 percent of votes counted, al-Maliki’s coalition was still winning in seven of Iraq’s 18 provinces compared with five for Allawi. That could prove important since parliament seats are apportioned mainly by how well coalitions do in the provinces, not according to overall vote total.