Moqtada al Sadr's party is the biggest winner in the Iraqi election, increasing the number of seats the Muslim cleric holds in parliament, according to initial results, officials, and a spokesperson for the Sadrist Movement.

Iraqi supporters of Sadr's movement celebrate after preliminary results of Iraq's parliamentary election were announced in Baghdad, Iraq on October 11, 2021.
Iraqi supporters of Sadr's movement celebrate after preliminary results of Iraq's parliamentary election were announced in Baghdad, Iraq on October 11, 2021. (Reuters)

The political movement of Iraq's influential Shia cleric Moqtada al Sadr has said it retained the biggest share of seats in the country's parliament, after elections with a record low voter turnout.

A Sadrist official who asked not to be named told AFP news agency that the movement has won around 73 of the parliament's 329 seats in Sunday's election.

"The people should celebrate this victory of the biggest bloc... without causing any inconvenience," Sadr, a former militia leader who opposes all foreign influence in Iraq, said in a televised address on Monday.

Sadrists held 54 seats, also the largest bloc, in the former parliament, and were considered the favourites in the election which occurred against widespread disillusionment about a political elite seen as inept and corrupt.

An electoral commission official confirmed that preliminary results from Sunday's poll showed the Sadrists "in the lead".

Although experts had expected the large blocs to preserve their dominance in the fragmented parliament, the lack of a clear majority will force them to negotiate alliances.

The election was moved forward from 2022 as a concession to an anti-government protest movement that has demanded deep reforms in the oil-rich yet poverty-stricken country.

READ MORE: Iraqis go to polls for early election with little hope of change

Record low turnout

Preliminary turnout was just 41 percent, the electoral commission said –– below the modest 44.5 percent recorded in 2018.

Sunday's vote was held in response to mass protests in 2019 that demanded jobs, services, the removal of Iraq's ruling parties and an overhaul of the political system. 

Security forces and militias killed hundreds of protesters in a brutal crackdown on the unrest.

The country has held five parliamentary elections since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 that toppled Saddam Hussein, but most ordinary Iraqis say their lives have not improved even during the relative peace since Daesh was defeated in 2017.

About 25 million eligible voters were called to choose from more than 3,200 candidates.

READ MORE: Can elections change anything in war-torn Iraq?

Election security

The election was held under tight security in a country where key parliamentary blocs have armed factions and Daesh group has launched mass-casualty suicide attacks this year.

Airports were closed and travel between provinces banned, while voters were searched twice at polling stations.

An attack blamed on Daesh on a voting centre in a remote part of northern Iraq left a police officer dead, a security source said.

Authorities also reported the arrest of 77 suspects for electoral "violations".

The vote was marred by technical problems at some stations, including malfunctioning equipment and fingerprint readers, officials and AFP journalists said.

READ MORE: Polls close across Iraq after parliamentary election

Sadr's candidates beat out Iran's favoured candidates

Sadr, a maverick leader remembered for leading an insurgency against US forces after the 2003 invasion, appeared to have increased his movement’s seats in the 329-member parliament from 54 in 2018 to more than 70.

With 94 percent of the ballot boxes counted, none of the competing political blocs appeared on track to win a majority in parliament and consequently name a prime minister. 

But as the results stand, Sadr’s bloc will be able to take a leading role in the political horse-trading to find a compromise candidate and set the political agenda for the next four years.

Sadr’s candidates beat out Iran’s favoured candidates from the Fatah Alliance to come out first, according to preliminary results.

The Fatah Alliance, led by paramilitary leader Hadi al Ameri, is comprised of parties and affiliated with the Popular Mobilisation Forces, an umbrella group of mostly pro-Iran Shia militias.

It was not immediately clear on Monday how many seats the Fatah Alliance lost, from the 48 they got in 2018.

The new parliament will also elect Iraq's next president.

Iraq by convention has had a Shia prime minister, a Sunni parliament speaker and a Kurdish president.

READ MORE: Why are Iraqis angry at Iran?

Source: TRTWorld and agencies