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Breaking News: Iraq: Election results within two days, turnout at record low

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Iraq’s election commission says the results of the first national vote since declaring victory over the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group are expected within two days.

The vote on Saturday saw a record low turnout, with only 44 percent of eligible voters casting ballots. No election since 2003 has had a turnout below 60 percent. More than 10 million Iraqis voted.

Polling station officials blamed the low turnout on a combination of tight security measures, voter apathy and irregularities linked to a new electronic voting system.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is running to keep his post. His chief rivals are political parties with closer ties to Iran, as well as influential scholar Muqtada al-Sadr, a staunch nationalist who campaigned against government corruption.

Nearly 7,000 candidates from dozens of political alliances are competing for 329 seats in parliament.

Al-Abadi, who heads the Nasr (Victory) coalition, is seen by some as a frontrunner, but he faces stiff competition from Hadi al-Amiri, a paramilitary commander heading the Fateh alliance.

Another strong contender is Nouri al-Maliki, a former prime minister who is seen as a possible kingmaker in the vote.

The results are expected within 48 hours of the vote, according to the independent body overseeing the process.

Difficulties in voting

By Saturday afternoon, less than 20 percent of residents in the capital, Baghdad, had turned out to vote, according to the Iraqi High Electoral Commission (IHEC).

Initial IHEC reports put the overall turnout at 32 percent, compared with about 60 percent in the last elections four years ago.

Commenting on the low voter turnout, Renad Mansour, a research fellow at UK-based think-tank Chatham House, told Al Jazeera: “Many Iraqis, especially in Sunni areas, do not view the election as legitimate. Many boycotted the vote because they do not believe it will make a difference.”

The low turnout was also partly blamed on a curfew and vehicle ban that came into force after midnight across several provinces in Iraq.

The restrictions left the streets of the capital, Baghdad, empty during the early hours of the vote.

The restrictions left the streets of the capital, Baghdad, empty during the early hours of the vote.

With public transport also banned, only vehicles belonging to security forces and politicians were allowed to move around.

“The polling stations were far away from us and without cars allowed, it was really hard to get to the polling stations,” said Amal, a housewife living in central Baghdad.

The ban was partially lifted by al-Abadi later in the day, in an effort to improve turnout.

Meanwhile, only 285,000 people out of Iraq’s displaced population of two million had registered to vote, the electoral commission said.

The poll saw the implementation of a new electronic voting system for the first time in a bid to reduce electoral fraud.

Many wanting to cast their ballots at different polling stations across the country complained of irregularities.

“We visited IHEC and checked the biometric system, we were very surprised how faulty the workflow and management was, we reported this,” Hiwa Afandi, the head of the Kurdistan Regional Government’s department of information technology, said in a post on Twitter.

“Not using technology is better than a faulty implementation. Auditing and certifying is a must for such application where trust is a big issue,” he added.

The IHEC insisted that despite the irregularities, voting hours would not be extended because the electronic voting system had been scheduled to close at 6pm (15:00 GMT).

Iraq’s political system

Negotiations over the formation of a new government are expected to drag on as no single alliance is expected to able to win the 165 seats required for an outright majority.

Instead, the bloc that wins the most seats will have to rely on the support of smaller groups to achieve a majority.

Until a new prime minister is chosen, al-Abadi will remain in office and retain all his powers.

Political power in Iraq is traditionally divided along sectarian lines among the offices of prime minister, president and speaker of parliament.

Since the first elections following the 2003 US-led toppling of Saddam Hussein, the Shia majority has held the position of prime minister, while the Kurds have held the presidency and the Sunnis the post of speaker of parliament.

The constitution sets a quota for female representation, stating that no less than one-fourth of parliament members must be women.

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