Four days before the election, the second since the US-led invasion seven years ago, Maliki's State of Law coalition, a Shia nationalist group, is polling eight percentage points better than its nearest rival, a cross-sectarian group known as the Iraqi National Movement, headed by former prime minister Iyad Allawi. Polls during the first of two weeks of campaigning suggest State of Law will win 30% of seats, with Mr Allawi's group likely to win 22%, and a conservative Shia bloc, the Iraqi National Alliance, on 17%.
Maliki has acknowledged in debates and media performances that his achievements have been few, apart from oil deals with foreign companies and marshalling security forces throughout a steady decline in violence. However, his support has stayed buoyant, and a slight rise through the past 10 days suggests he has been able to sway some sections of a disenchanted public – a trend that has surprised rivals and regional observers.
"This is partly because he has played on fear," said a western diplomat. "Fear of the unknown, and an argument which he's constantly pushed that others would likely do worse. Another reason is that he has the support of Iraq's civil servants, and they're several million strong."
All stages during Sunday's poll will be heavily monitored by observers from Britain, the UN and the European Union among others; however fears of massive voter fraud remain. Voters have been lavished with gifts, with Maliki paying particular attention to central and southern Iraq, where much of his base lives in poverty despite three years of electoral commitments to improve services.
Election banners and lorries with party livery line most routes and roundabouts in Baghdad. The Sunni-dominated Anbar province, which boycotted the 2005 poll en masse, appears largely intent on taking part in this poll, after a Sunni lawmaker backed down on his boycott call.
The 6,000-plus candidates have been highly visible and accessible to media in the campaign (which ends 48 hours before the ballot), creating some scepticism.
"All of them want to talk to us for two weeks every four years," said Hassan al-Kaisi, from the inner-city district of Arasat in Baghdad. "Then they will disappear again behind their barricades, and start counting all the money they have stolen." Sawssan Moussawi, from nearby Karrada, said she had "heard enough from all of them to know that they are neither nationalist nor secular. I'm voting for the beautiful woman, Feyruz."
Anticipated violence has so far failed to materialise on a large scale, although bombings are expected over the remaining three days.