BAGHDAD, Feb. 2 (UPI) -- Early results from Iraq's provincial elections indicate Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's party and other secular parties scored big gains, officials said.
If the preliminary returns hold, the prime minister's position could be strengthened when dealing with lawmakers before national elections next year, with Maliki's Dawa Party seeing strong support in Basra
and Baghdad, two of Iraq's largest and most politically significant provinces, political parties and election officials told The New York Times.
The success of secular parties also may indicate Iraqis' dissatisfaction with religious parties that did little to deliver needed services while in power, the Times said.
At 51 percent nationwide, turnout was lower than election officials said they expected.
Faraj al-Haideri, head of the Independent High Electoral Commission, described the election as fair and said major fraud hadn't been evident. Even though the turnout was less than anticipated, the commission was "very pleased with the turnout," he said, adding, "Very rarely in other parts of the world do you get such a high percentage voting in provincial elections."
Official results of how many seats each party won would be available in several days, but election officials, independent observers and various party representatives indicated the Dawa Party gained electoral support in most provinces.
The Supreme Council, relying on its religious identity during the campaign, was among the top vote-getters in most provinces south of Baghdad, initial results indicated. Other incumbent parties also reported strong showings in several provinces, including the Iraqi National List, the Iraqi Islamic Party and parties backed by radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr.