MPs who enter the Iraqi Kurdish parliament receive a monthly salary of over US$6,000 as well as having the services of two security personnel, a car and an apartment in Erbil. They also get additional payments to enable them to travel internationally. It may have been foolish but many of the candidates who wanted those kinds of benefits and who ran in the elections had calculated their future earnings as MPs against the money they borrowed to mount their own campaigns.
Tayeb Zarra can’t even claim that his was a foolish dream – he was just unlucky. He is a member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, or KDP, the party that eventually got the most votes in the September election. And Zarra won 1,500 votes which put him 34th on the KDP’s list of 38 seats. However he was forced to withdraw due to rules about female quotas and give his seat up to a female candidate from the KDP. Now, he complains, he can’t pay his debts to the printers who made his campaign materials.
“The party supported us financially but it wasn’t enough to launch the kinds of campaigns we needed,” Zarra told NIQASH. “That’s why we spent our own money – I spent US$35,000 on my campaign. And I haven’t been able to pay the printing shop back yet for my posters.”
Ibrahim Shabaziri, the head of a local printing press, Hauser, said that his business had printed posters for 35 candidates and that some of the would-be MPs had not yet paid their printing bills. However none of them seemed to be trying to avoid paying, he noted. And in fact, he says, “we decided not to pursue some of the bills because we wanted to help them out,’ he says.
Meanwhile Soran Rahman, who runs the Shihab press, says that he had printed posters for six candidates from the both the KDP and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or PUK. Some of them had printed up more than 100,000 posters but thankfully all of them had won seats in Parliament. All but one had paid their bills. “And he promised to pay us soon because he won a seat too,” Rahman says. “If he doesn’t pay us, then you’ve got to wonder what he’s going to get up to as an MP.”
The marketing and sales manager at one of Iraqi Kurdistan’s best known newspapers, who wanted to remain anonymous because of commercial sensitivities, also admitted that a lot of the candidates hadn’t paid their bills to the newspaper yet. More than a month has gone by since the elections, he said, but the advertising the candidates had done in the paper remained unpaid. “They have the money,” he said. “They’re just avoiding payment.”
There were seven particularly poor debtors among the candidates but he wasn’t going to name names, he said. “Basically they just turned off their mobile phones after the elections were done,” he notes.
But there are more things for the losing candidates to worry about than just the bills they ran up themselves. They may also face mounting fines from the municipal authorities and the election overseers if they infringe rules about how long campaign materials could remain in place. A time limit was set and candidates had to remove posters and other material or face a fine.
Handarin Mohammed Salih, who heads Iraqi Kurdistan’s election oversight office said that his office had fined a number of candidates and parties already because they had put posters and stickers in places they were not supposed to, such as on government and religious buildings. Additionally they had used glue to attach them, which was also against the campaigning rules.
“However the lion’s share of those violations were committed by the major parties and they’ve been fined varying amounts, from a dollar to a thousand dollars,” says Salih, who would like to see the fines raised in order to prevent these infringements recurring.
Nobody had yet been fined for not removing campaign materials but they would need to be gone this month, Salih said, otherwise that would be another expense to add to failed candidates’ mounting bills.