Visit the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan at the moment and you will not get the impression that there is a financial crisis here. Because the region is in the throes of enthusiastic and intense election campaigning. And what has been called a “financial blockade” set up by authorities in Baghdad doesn’t seem to have had any major impact on local political parties.
On April 30, the northern region, which has its own military, legislature and parliament, will hold not only general elections along with the rest of Iraq, but voters will also choose local representatives for their own Parliament.
Previously media reports have indicated that each of the parties in power in Iraqi Kurdistan at the moment get a monthly income, for being part of local government. This is around US$4 million per month for the Kurdistan Democratic Party, or KDP, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or PUK; up until recently these were the two ruling parties in Iraqi Kurdistan. Smaller parties like the Change movement receive less. For example the Change movement gets about half a million dollars and the two Islamic parties here get between US$380,000 and US$300,000 each.
However the recent financial problems mean that none of these parties has been paid for about four months. And one might imagine that would impact on their election campaigning. However it does not seem to be a problem.
In the interests of fairness, Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission, or IHEC, has set a limit on how much political parties are supposed to spend on their campaigns: Each party is supposed to limit themselves to IQD250 (around US$0.20 cents) per voter. “An amount of IQD250 has been set as the limit for each voter,” explained Handarin Mohammed Salih, who heads Iraqi Kurdistan\'s election oversight office. “For example, in Erbil there are 970,000 eligible voters. So no entity can spend more than IQD242 million [around US$200,000] on its campaign in this province. Parties are also required to open campaign bank accounts and to submit statements afterwards.”
Of course, we wants to win the most seats and consolidate our hold on political power, says Khosro Khirwan, who’s running the KDP’s election office. But he wouldn’t say anything about budgets for the campaign or how much was being spent. “It is an internal matter,” he told NIQASH.
However speaking off the record, one KDP candidate said that his party had allocated each candidate US$10,000 as well as paying for the printing of 200 large flex posters and 2,000 smaller cards per candidate in the general election. They had also spent money on the candidates running for the local parliament, to the tune of US$5,000 each, along with the same amount of posters and cards.
Khirwan didn’t confirm nor deny this, saying only that he didn’t have the information at hand.
Meanwhile a spokesperson from the Change movement, who became the second most popular party in Iraqi Kurdistan after last year’s provincial elections, says that no specific amount was allocated for campaigning. Zibar Mohammed, the second-in-charge of the Change movement’s administration, says that his party printed each candidate 3,000 small posters and 40 large flex posters but that they didn’t pay the candidates any money.
He also confirmed that the Change movement usually gets around half a million US dollars from the government each month but that they had received nothing for the past four months. The delay has impacted on the Change movement’s organizational and administrative work, Mohammed said, but had only had minimal impact on election campaigning.
“We’ve benefited from advertising on party friendly media, we’ve had the salaries of Change movement members in Baghdad and Erbil and we’ve been assisted by businessmen affiliated with the Change movement,” Mohammed explained.
“The total amount we’ve spent on these campaigns isn’t clear as yet,” he added. “But it will be worth it: The Change movement believes these elections are very important.”
After noting that the way funds were allocated to the different parties needed to be reviewed after the last elections – it was time the Change party had more financial support - Mohammed also promised to disclose election campaign spending after the elections.
Meanwhile the PUK which currently ranks third in popularity in Iraqi Kurdistan, has a lot to lose. It lost a lot of votes to the KDP at last year’s provincial elections and party stalwarts see these elections as an opportunity to regain lost ground. Still Jwan Ehsan, the official spokeswoman for PUK\'s election campaign, declined to give any figures for campaign expenditure, as did two senior PUK members.
The parties that have most felt the impact of the financial blockade by Baghdad are the smaller ones. It’s had a major impact, Mohammed Hakim, spokesperson for the Kurdistan Islamic Union, admitted to NIQASH. Nonetheless they had budgeted US$1.75 million for the election campaign and each candidate had received an amount of US$5,000. “In addition the party is printing posters for the candidates because the financial crisis has really affected them a lot,” Hakim explains.
And there is also another group badly affected by the financial blockade in Iraqi Kurdistan - but it is not a political one. Iraqi Kurdistan’s print shops and printers usually expect a significant increase in business during election campaigns.
“We were expecting a lot of business,” Soran Abdul-Rahman, the head of the Kurdistan Printing Press Association, agreed. “But we’ve had about 50 percent less work than we had during the last elections.” Abdul-Rahman believes that business has declined because a lot of the political parties now have their own printers.
And in just over a fortnight, when the elections are over, there will be another cost – this time one for local authorities to bear. “Every day already we’ve been removing dozens of posters that violate the rules about where they are allowed to be placed,” says one of Erbil’s senior municipality workers. “We photograph the posters that violate the rules before we remove them and we send them to IHEC so they can fine the offenders.”
“Still, at the end of the election campaigns last year, we had to pay a company IQD15 million [around US$12,000] to remove all the posters that were still up,” he added. “A lot of political parties didn’t comply with regulations and remove their own placards.”