Iraq's incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's apparent victory in parliamentary elections at the end of April has given him a leading role in forming the next government, but it will not necessarily secure him a third term in office.
On Monday, Iraq's electoral results were published in national newspapers. The tally was accompanied by a warning that only three days remain to lodge electoral disputes. The results will be considered final when the Iraqi High Electoral Commission, and the country's High Court, have addressed the accusations of impropriety.
"The period to receive the appeals of election results has started," said an IHEC official, who declined to be named. "All these procedures are expected take 20-30 days, so the final results are expected to be announced by the end of June or the beginning of July," the official added.
Meanwhile, political manoeuvering began as political parties will seek to form a large enough coalition bloc to form a government. Possible court rulings that would adjust the election results are not expected to affect the alliances.
Based on the IHEC results published on Monday, Maliki's State of Law coalition won 92 seats in the newly elected parliament. Smaller parties headed by State of Law members who ran under separate electoral lists secured another eight seats, allowing Maliki to claim that he seized at least 100 of the 328 seat parliament.
The Islah party, led by Ibrahim al-Jaafari, one of Maliki's prominent allies, secured six additional seats. The Fadhila party, another State of Law ally, won a further six seats. If they were to form a political alliance, State of Law and other Shia parties could create a 170-180 seat bloc.
In Baghdad, more than 700,000 people voted for Maliki's State of Law list. On Friday, the party nominated him as their only candidate for prime minister.
Shia Muslim parties, including al-Islah and al-Fadhilah, are in talks with Maliki's State of Law coalition to revive the "National Alliance" that formed the 2010 administration. Under constitutional rules, this would create a big enough bloc to nominate a prime minister and form a new government.
"The priority now is to revive and strengthen the Shia National Alliance and reunite all Shia factions in one bloc to be the biggest in the next parliament," a senior Shia leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity and is familiar with the talks, said.
"If Shia blocs are unified, the next parliament and government will be strong and the ceiling of Kurdish and Sunni demands will be lower," Abdulwahid Tuama, an independent political analyst, told Al Jazeera.
His rivals, however, including fellow Shia Muslims sympathetic to the State of Law alliance, strongly oppose Maliki's bid for a third term.
"We do not support Maliki for another term and we asked the National Alliance to nominate someone else," said Mohammed al-Hamdani, a senior Sadrist leader. "He did not serve the people and did not deliver on his promises to the other political blocs."
Sunni parties performed poorly in the election as they ran during a time of deep internal divisions. The leading Sunni Mutahidoun list, headed by parliamentary speaker Osama al-Nujaifi, won only 23 seats across the country.
Some Sunni blocs have expressed willingness to work with Maliki if he agreed to their demands. "We have no red line against any candidate, including Maliki," said Qassim al-Fahdawi, an MP and former governor of Anbar province, which has been rocked by sectarian violence in recent months.
Al-Fahdawi said the new government should release innocent people who were jailed during Maliki's rule, a key Sunni grievance, and cancel a law that removed members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party from powerful state positions, which many see as discriminating against Sunnis.
Maliki may also need the help of the Kurds to form a new government. Kurdish parties won 62 seats in the new parliament, but relations between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Baghdad have become increasingly strained as the Kurds push for more financial independence.
Kurdish officials in Erbil said that talks over forming a government will also need to focus on solving pending issues between the Kurdish region and the capital, such as management of oil, territory and budgets. Since January, the central government has been withholding the Kurds' share of the national budget over their plans to sell oil independently.
On May 23, Kurdistan's Ministry of Natural Resources announced it had exported crude oil from Kurdistan to world markets via Turkey, without Baghdad's consent. Iraq's oil ministry responded by declaring legal action against Turkey.
"If indeed Turkey is allowing for the sale of oil on international markets without Baghdad's consent, then there is very little that Baghdad could do to encourage the Kurds to support a third term [for Maliki]," said Zaid al-Ali, a political analyst and author of the book The Struggle for Iraq's Future.
Kurds, however, feel that Maliki did not honour commitments he made when they backed him for a second term in 2010; among them, an agreement over the passing of an oil and gas law.
Opponents also fear Maliki's tendency to consolidate power through the security forces, said al-Ali. "That will make it very difficult to convince any potential partners of his trustworthiness," he said.