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Test_1_NYT_Articles - Monday February 2nd Secular parties...

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Monday, February 2 nd Secular parties and the Prime Minister - BAGHDAD — Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki and several secular parties appeared to score significant gains in Iraq ’s provincial elections on Saturday, preliminary reports showed Sunday. If the early returns prove accurate, the prime minister could be strengthened in dealings with Parliament before national elections to be held by next year. Mr. Maliki’s Dawa Party drew strong support in Basra and Baghdad, two of Iraq’s largest and most politically important provinces, according to political parties and election officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss preliminary tallies. The relative success of the secular parties may be a sign that a significant number of Iraqis are disillusioned with the religious parties that have been in power but have done little to deliver needed services. Well-known incumbent parties also did well. The Americans had pushed for the provincial elections as a way to redistribute power more evenly throughout the country after many Iraqis boycotted the last elections in 2005. It was unclear whether a lower-than-expected turnout, at 51 percent nationwide, would curb hopes that all Iraqi sectarian and ethnic groups could be more accurately represented. Faraj al-Haideri, the head of the Independent High Electoral Commission, described the election as fair and said there was no evidence of major fraud. He said the commission was “very pleased with the turnout,” adding, “Very rarely in other parts of the world do you get such a high percentage voting in provincial elections.” Low turnout of just 40 percent in Anbar Province was a particular surprise because the area, for years racked by a brutal insurgency, is now relatively calm and many people were eager to vote after having sat out the elections in 2005. Despite the low numbers in Anbar, the electoral commission said Sunni participation nationwide was higher than it had been in 2005. The turnout appeared to reflect confusion over voting procedures as well as voter apathy. There were complaints across the country from Iraqis who had tried to vote but were unable to do so. Most were prevented either because a strict curfew prevented them from reaching their polling center or because their names were not on the center’s voter roll when they got there. Part of the problem was caused by the large number of internally displaced Iraqis who no longer live in the province where they are registered to vote. About one million Iraqis were displaced as a result of sectarian and ethnic fighting over the past five years, and while some have returned the majority are living outside their home province. It was too early to tell whether those people who were unable to vote would seek redress or resort to violence — or simply resign themselves to not having a voice.
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