Early poll results in Iraq's national elections show a strong lead for State of Law, the bloc led by Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, with about two-thirds of the total votes counted.
The coalition is ahead in oil-rich Basra and Karbala, two of Iraq's three biggest provinces, which have Shia Muslim majorities.
Al-Maliki's State of Law is also holding on to leads in Baghdad, whose 70 seats account for more than a fifth of Iraq's 325-member Council of Representatives, as well as Babil, Najaf, Wasit and Muthanna.
The poll results have put Iyad Allawi, the head of Iraqiya, a cross-sectarian bloc, ahead in the disputed oil-rich province of Kirkuk, against the expectations of analysts who had predicted it would probably be won by a Kurdish bloc.
Allawi is also leading in the Sunni-majority region of Anbar, Iraq's largest province geographically.
Anita McNaught, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Baghdad, said on Tuesday that, nationally, there is now just under 24,000 votes between al-Maliki and Allawi.
"There is substantial national support right across the board for the message of national unity that Allawi took to the campaign," she said.
"What we're seeing is huge support for Allawi, although the most natural partners, and perhaps the most willing, might be some parties in the Iraqi National Alliance - a Shia coalition.
"Al-Maliki is going to have to think very carefully, if in fact he ends up being the man making the decisions. Because it's possible they could ally behind him and create another power bloc and elect a different man for prime minister.
"People will have to bear in mind that a government built on purely sectarian lines is going to raise a lot of questions.
"At the moment, half the national vote is going to a coalition that is secular and nationalistic in tone."
Call for recount
In another development likely to complicate the picture, State of Law accused on Tuesday an election official of manipulating vote counts and called for a recount.
Ali al-Adeeb, a candidate on the list, said that al-Maliki had sent a complaint to the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) and its UN advisers.
"There was manipulation of the numbers by an official who works in the data-entry section,'' he said.
"This person is working for the benefit of one bloc and manipulating the numbers."
State of Law has also asked for a recount of the original vote tallies from all the country's more than 50,000 polling stations, al-Adeeb said.
Saad al-Rawi, an IHEC official, said the commission had received the complaint from al-Maliki's bloc but said it was one of many complaints to come in without any concrete evidence.
"The complaints against us from the blocs don't end," he said. "They need to present proof for an investigation to be opened and the judge will decide."
Claims of fraud
Since the March 7 election, the counting process has been fraught with claims of fraud, mostly from the opposition.
The IHEC has also been criticised for being chaotic and slow in releasing the results.
Meanwhile, violence continues to claim lives around the country.
Eight Iraqis were killed and 11 others wounded when two bombs exploded in separate attacks five minutes apart in the town of Mussayab on Tuesday, police said.
The bombs were attached to two cars carrying passengers on the main street of Muassayab, which is about 60km south of Baghdad.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies