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BAGHDAD: The veteran secular Kurdish politician Barham Salih was elected on Tuesday as Iraq’s next president.

Salih, of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), faced a challenge from Fuad Hussein of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). But Hussein withdrew from the second round of voting in parliament on Tuesday.

The selection of the president is the second step in forming a government and is usually the easiest because the two main Kurdish parties decided on a single candidate in advance.

The post of president is allocated to the Kurds under a 2005 agreement with Shiite and Sunni political forces.

But the failure of the PUK and the KDP to agree on a candidate turned the process into the latest political crisis to hit Baghdad since May elections.

Salih, 60, a senior PUK member, is considered a moderate. He studied at American universities and holds a PhD in data and statistics. He has occupied many regional and federal positions of government over the last 20 years. 

For the first time since 2003 Tuesday’s parliamentary session witnessed a break from reaching a political consensus to appoint the main positions of government. 

MPs were allowed by the heads of the main alliances to vote freely for whichever candidate they wanted, deputies told Arab News.

The session was attended by 301 MPs for the first time since 2003 and 19 candidates stood for the post of president.

Salih won 219 votes in the decisive second round, while Hussein won 22.

The president is mostly a ceremonial position and does not have executive powers. But many hope Barham will play a key role in improving relations between Baghdad and the Kurdish region and between the Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite blocs in parliament.

The next stage is for the president to assign the candidate of the largest parliamentary bloc to form a government. 

Adel Abdul Mahdi, a veteran Shiite politician and former vice president arrived at the parliament building on Tuesday evening “in preparation to assign him to form a government,” MPs said. 

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