There’s less than a fortnight to go before elections are held in the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan. The campaigning is fierce with campaign rallies blockaded ad posters being torn down - but already locals are asking whether the elections will actually change anything?
Although it is part of Iraq, the region of Iraqi Kurdistan has its own government, military, economy and legislation and as such it can hold elections for its own parliament. So on Sept. 21, there will 19 political parties competing, with around 1,120 candidates contesting 100 seats in the local parliament and another 11 seats belonging to minorities via quota.
And while each political organization is announcing that it will win big in the coming election, many analysts don’t think there will be any major upsets. While there is an opposition in Iraqi Kurdistan, generally power is shared there between two major parties - the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). In practice the region is basically split into two separate zones of influence, with local administrations in Erbil and Dohuk controlled by the KDP and the Sulaymaniyah area mostly administered by the PUK.
What is different though is that the KDP and the PUK are competing on two different lists. In the past they’ve competed as one unit, or list, and in 2009, that list won around three-quarters of the votes in the region. The rest of the votes were garnered by the opposition Change movement, also known as the Goran party, in Iraqi Kurdistan. Together with two Islamic parties in the region, which also gained seats, the Change movement have been able to present a fairly formidable opposition to the KDP and PUK.
But because the two major parties are competing separately, there is some doubt as to who will lead the formation of the next regional government.
Still, many expect this year’s outcome to be similar to the last round of elections after Sept. 21. There haven’t been any polls undertaken but observers think things will stay the same, with the KDP getting the most votes and the PUK coming second followed by the opposition parties.
The KDP party, in particular, is confident. They believe they will win more votes than before and receive a strong mandate to rule from the Kurdish electorate. As a result this will be a new phase for them, they say.
Unsurprisingly for Iraq, there are already accusations of electoral fraud going around, many of them directed at the KDP. Critics, who have included members of the PUK, say that electoral rolls contain many repeated names as well as names of thousands of deceased individuals. Those critics say that the KDP will try and use the bogus names to win.
However Jafar Ibrahim Eminki, spokesperson for the KDP, denies this. He believes that the KDP will win without having to cheat. “The political equation has changed – things are the same as they were four years ago,” Eminki says. “And tomorrow will be different from today. That’s why we expect to win and why we expect a change in the political map.”
The opposition Change movement also thinks that there will be a change in Iraqi Kurdish politics.
“We think things are going to change because the PUK and the KDP are competing separately,” says Yusuf Mohammed, a senior member of the Change movement. “The coming elections are going to reveal the level of support for the KDP and the PUK and show how big they really are. Additionally there are more supporters for opposition parties,” Mohammed told NIQASH.
Perhaps unsurprisingly the PUK are the only ones who don’t believe there will be a major change. “If elections are held in a transparent way and there’s no fraud, then the percentages will look similar to the last elections,” says a senior PUK member, Harem Kamal Agha.
Political analysts tend to agree. The only change will be that the two biggest parties will get some indication of how many supporters they each have because they’re running separately, says one local analyst Bishtwan Kamal. There may be a slight increase or decrease but it won’t be enough to make a huge difference, he says.
Kamal also believes that the biggest parties won’t allow any major changes and they have a variety of weapons in their arsenal to ensure they get their way. “The only way that the political map can really change here is if voters’ awareness increases,” Kamal argues. “And Kurdish society isn’t politically mature enough yet to make this happen.”