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Early Electioneering:
Critics Say Politicians Who Join Protests In Iraqi Kurdistan Cause Violence

Maaz Farhan
The presence of political candidates among recent popular protests in Iraqi Kurdistan has been noted. Some say the candidates are there to start campaigning too early, others say they’re just trouble makers.
29.03.2018  |  Sulaymaniyah
Kurdish protestors listen to speeches. (photo: معاذ فرحان)
Kurdish protestors listen to speeches. (photo: معاذ فرحان)

In Iraqi Kurdistan, campaigning for elections should start in May. The federal elections are due to be held mid-May and the regional elections should be held before the end of this year. However there has been plenty of electioneering going in the semi-autonomous, northern region over the past few weeks. Potential candidates and party members are making their presence felt at recent demonstrations protesting stalled salary payments for the region’s civil servants.

It’s OK by us, says Farman Rashad, the head of Stop, a local anti-corruption organization, that has been participating regularly in the protests. He’s noticed political candidates in the crowds but, as he says, “we don’t mind as long as they don’t try and divert protestors’ attention or use them for propaganda purposes.”

Political candidates attending the demonstrations could incite the protestors to violence, turning peaceful events into violent ones.

Rashad thinks the locals who are demonstrating are well aware why political candidates might suddenly appear in their midst. “It might even put some people off,” he suggests. “They might think the candidates are there to try and deceive them or that the candidates think they are somehow naive.”

This isn’t the first time that politicians have mingled with demonstrators in Iraqi Kurdistan.  When they did so last time, before 2011 elections, members of the region’s Change movement and Islamic parties benefitted from organizing protests. Many of those who did so, gained seats in the local parliament.

Some members of the same parties have been present at these recent demonstrations too.

Local political analyst and writer, Kamal Jumani, is not sure if this does anyone any good. “During the February 2011 protests a number of people at them became candidates for parliament,” he explains. “But few lived up to the responsibility when they were elected. And there were many who betrayed the promises they made.”  

“In Kurdistan, people don’t know how to be good candidates,” he continued. “They have nothing to offer and nothing to talk about. So they join the demonstrations.”

“Some political parties see the demonstrations as a way to score political points,” said Hawzhin Omer, a member of one of Iraqi Kurdish opposition Islamic parties, working on their electoral oversight committee. “But we are not happy with the way the Iraqi Kurdish government works, whether there are demonstrations or not. We have supported many of the protests for that reason.”



If a candidate had previously been in the opposition and spoken out, it wouldn’t be strange to see him at the protests, Omer said. “But the thing is, some of the parties who are part of the problems that people are protesting about, are also sending their members to the demonstrations.”

Recent protests in Iraqi Kurdistan, some of which turned violent, have mostly been about one thing: The non-payment of the salaries of civil servants such as teachers or those working in the ministry of health. The protests tend to target the two major political parties in Iraqi Kurdistan, the Kurdistan Democratic Party, or KDP, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

The two parties, which basically run the region, say the protestors are welcome to demonstrate.

“The demonstrations, led by teachers and employees to improve their living conditions, are legitimate and it is the duty of the authorities to address this problem as quickly as possible,” Akram Saleh, a senior member of the KDP, told Niqash.

But he also believes the fact that elections are nearing means that some politicians will try to raise issues and talk about reforms that cannot realistically be achieved in the short term. And that’s when Saleh thinks it’s just about election propaganda. And, he adds, the fact that political candidates are also attending the demonstrations could incite the protestors to violence, turning peaceful events into violent ones.

This has been something a number of authorities have said, blaming the potential for violence, and any actual violence, on “outsiders” who attend the protests – this is despite the fact that the protestors far outnumber any celebrities or politicians.

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