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all change
iraqi kurdistan\'s election winner demands fair share of power

Sangar Jamal
After recent elections in Iraqi Kurdistan, the opposition Change movement became the second most popular party in the semi-autonomous region. However the traditional partnership between the third most popular party…
21.11.2013  |  Sulaymaniyah
A Kurdish man walks past election posters for recent parliamentary elections in Iraqi Kurdistan.
A Kurdish man walks past election posters for recent parliamentary elections in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Unlike the rest of Iraq, the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan has not held provincial elections for eight years. Recently the region, which has its own legislature, government and military, held parliamentary elections that saw the balance of power shift – and the results of that shift are now being felt in a call to hold provincial elections.

The Iraqi Kurdish elections, held in late September, saw the balance of power between the region’s three major parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Change movement, shift. Formerly the strongest parties in Iraqi Kurdistan were the KDP and the PUK; they shared power in the region and generally acted as close allies. But after the elections, the Change party – considered the major opposition there - became the second most popular political party in the region, bumping the PUK into third place.

And now the Change movement is demanding that it be allowed more power and more of a voice in the parts of Iraqi Kurdistan where it won the most votes. For example, in the Sulaymaniyah province the Change movement apparently won an overwhelming majority, getting 350,000 votes there while the PUK only got 210,000 and the KDP far less, with 84,000 votes. Almost three-quarters of Iraqi Kurdistan\'s eligible voters turned out to cast their ballots.

Traditionally Iraqi Kurdistan has basically been 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. The Change movement was actually formed as a breakaway from the PUK, so it makes sense that these two groups should be the most popular in the Sulaymaniyah area.

Provincial elections – held to elect local administration officials like the governor of a state – are meant to be held every four years and the next round was supposed to be happen in Iraqi Kurdistan this week, on Nov. 21. Previously they had been scheduled for September 2012 and had already been delayed several times before that; however in the middle of 2013, it was announced that the provincial elections in November would be delayed again.

And previously the various reasons – election legalities, minority rights and scheduling issues – were often accepted by most Iraqi kurdish politicians, even though many criticised the delays as being a form of political game playing by the major parties in the region.

However with its new mandate clear after the recent parliamentary elections, the Change movement is now protesting those delays. In fact, they\'re saying they should be allowed to run the regions in which they won the most votes until the next provincial elections can be held because its clear that is what the voters in these areas want.

“Instead of allowing the Change movement to participate in the government, it is being punished,” the party\'s head, Nashirwan Mustafa, said. How long would the party allow this state of affairs to carry on? Mustafa asked – which led supporters to demand that the post of governor in Sulaymaniyah be handed to them. There has even been overly dramatic talk in some quarters of splitting the region up, allowing Sulaymaniyah to secede from the semi-autonomous province.

“First and foremost, failure to hold provincial elections here is illegal,” posits Derbaz Mohammed, a professor from the Humanities Faculty at the University of Sulaymaniyah. “If an independent judiciary had their say, they could force the government to resign because of that.”

Provincial elections are actually just as important as parliamentary ones, Aram Jamal, manager of the Sulaymaniyah-based Kurdish Institute for Elections, an independent organisation for monitoring elections in the region, told NIQASH. “Voters should be able to choose their local representatives too.”

Like many others, Jamal believes that the ongoing delays in the holding of provincial elections have mostly to do with a lack of political will: neither the KDP nor the PUK have wanted to hold these elections because it might change the balance of power and disrupt their power-sharing arrangement. But now the parliamentary elections have done that for them.

Even the provincial council members have requested that provincial elections be held. “We sent a joint memorandum saying that we all supported the holding of provincial elections on time,” Erbil council member, Farhad Mula Saleh, told NIQASH.

But there had been no response, Rebor Hamad, a senior politician from Iraqi Kurdistan\'s opposition Islamic parties, said. “The two leading parties [the KDP and PUK] don\'t believe in the importance of the provincial councils,” he argued. “This is due to political conditions and because they\'re afraid it might change the existing balance of power.”

Iraq\'s Independent High Electoral commission, which is responsible for organizing and overseeing elections in the country, has also come in for criticism. Some have said that instead of acting independently, IHEC simply sides with the existing Iraqi Kurdish government on this issue and has been its willing accomplice in postponing the elections.

Currently the provincial elections are postponed, IHEC\'s spokesperson, Safaa al-Moussawi, confirmed. But a new date will be arranged after Iraq\'s next parliamentary elections, due to be held in April 2014, al-Moussawi said.

“We are ready and waiting to participate in the provincial elections,” PUK elections official, Shoresh Ismail, told NIQASH in response to criticisms that his party didn\'t want them held.

“What is being said about the PUK is simply motivated by political opposition. The PUK is ready to participate in provincial elections on any date that the government and IHEC agree upon. Anyway,” he added, “ it is partially the IHEC\'s fault. It has not been able to get organized in time and it asked us for more time.”

Presently no date has been set for provincial elections to be held in Iraqi Kurdistan. Jamal suggests that an April date, that would coincide with Iraq\'s federal elections, might be a good idea, as it would make the best use of time and organisational resources. However others say this would not be possible.

In the meantime, the stand off between the three most popular political parties in Iraqi Kurdistan remains unresolved.