The elections in Iraqi Kurdistan will be held this coming Saturday, Sept. 21. A new electoral system is causing candidates to fight harder for votes and will result in more democratic distribution of MPs’ seats, say election overseers.
Nazad Jalal has never travelled quite so much before. During the past ten days, the 31-year-old political science graduate, who runs his own media website, has been touring as many places in Iraqi Kurdistan as he can get to. Jalal is standing as a candidate in elections in the semi-autonomous region, due to be held this coming Saturday, Sept.21. Special votes were cast on Thursday, Sept. 19.
Jalal is standing as part of Iraqi Kurdistan’s largest opposition party, the Change movement.
“I was always in touch with the people here through my work,” Jalal told NIQASH. “So I knew about how they live and their problems. But I didn’t have that much contact with them personally; I had more contact with my writers and with politicians. But now that I am campaigning in these elections, I’ve really met a lot of people and had very close contact with them.”
Jalal is one of among 1,129 candidates in the region with similar ambitions. And they’ve all been pounding the streets, streets absolutely littered with campaign posters.
Because of the way that elections are structured this time around – voters can vote for the candidates individually as well as for the parties in a semi-open electoral system – the campaigning has been particularly fierce since it began at the end of August.
For example, Kasha Dara, a member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, (PUK) who will remain an MP in the Iraqi Kurdish parliament until November, is the 11th name on her party’s list. Together with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the PUK currently run the region – and during the last elections Dara was also on her party’s list, therefore got a seat. However these elections she must campaign as much as possible for herself.
She insists she’s made the same sort of effort during the last elections though. It’s just that this system “brings the candidate closer to the people. And this will increase credibility in the elections as well as competition between candidates.”
The biggest parties competing in the elections have helped their representatives out financially. Those parties – the KDP and the PUK which currently rule the region, the Change movement and the two Islamic parties – have also mobilized their own media outlets to support their candidates.
One of the PUK’s candidates, Kawthar Karim, reported that her party had given each candidate around IQD12 million (around US$10,000) to help them campaign. The KDP has apparently done similar to allow candidates to print posters and cards.
The Change movement printed 4,000 posters for each of its candidates and the two Islamic parties also gave their candidates some cash as well as helped them print posters.
Aram Jamal Sabir, director of the Kurdish Institute for Elections, which monitors the electoral processes in the region, says it was important to switch to the new semi-open system. Because this way the bigger parties in the system can’t win all the votes or bestow favours on certain candidates, and everyone is relatively independent.
In fact, Sabir says the system also gives voters a greater role in decision making as it is they who decide on the candidates that get in, not the parties.
“It is the citizens who decide on who will represent them,” Sabir confirms. “Which means that even candidates on the same party lists will have to campaign harder and meet more people. Genuine political participation is essential.”