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Fortune Telling:
A Bad Result In Iraqi Election Could Endanger Kurdish Regional Election

Saman Omer
In northern Iraq, Kurdish politicians are using the federal elections as a rehearsal for regional ones. If they like the results, they’ll hold a local vote. If not, elections in Iraqi Kurdistan may be postponed again.
3.05.2018  |  Sulaymaniyah
A Kurdish man walks past election posters in Iraqi Kurdistan.
A Kurdish man walks past election posters in Iraqi Kurdistan.

In Iraqi Kurdistan, election campaigning hasn’t actually had much to do with Iraqi politics. Judging by the types of debates, the campaign promises and candidates’ statements, local politicians are using the federal elections as a sort of test run for upcoming elections in the semi-autonomous, northern region.

Elections for the Iraqi Kurdish parliament, which operates separately from the federal parliament in Baghdad, were supposed to take place last year. However they were postponed and as yet no date has been set. The assumption is that they will take place before the end of this year.

A lot has happened in Iraqi Kurdistan since the last provincial and federal elections. This includes the security crisis caused by the extremist Islamic State group, a financial and economic crisis that has seen local salaries left unpaid and the ill-fated referendum on Kurdish independence, which resulted in the Kurds ceding control they had previously had over territory outside their own region.

Living conditions in the region that was once touted as “the new Dubai” have worsened and many angry voters feel that politicians have not kept their promises from the 2014 elections.

Changing the power in Kurdistan is not as easy as it might be in real democracies. But it’s not impossible.

Now that federal elections are approaching, it seems clear that the political parties in Iraqi Kurdistan are using this vote as a way to measure their own popularity - and that in turn might see certain parties advocating for a further delay in regional elections.

The campaign message coming from the Iraqi Kurdish political parties that have mostly been in opposition – the Change movement and the Kurdish Islamic parties – is clear: They want to continue to confront the parties in power here, the Kurdistan Democratic Party, or KDP, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or PUK. The opposition parties have been challenging the KDP and PUK for months, accusing them of breaking promises and other violations.

The message coming from the other corner – the KDP and the PUK – is also apparent. The two parties have been ruling the Iraqi Kurdish region in tandem for almost 30 years now and do not appear ready to step away from power, even if disgruntled voters say they should.

In January a senior member of the PUK, Mullah Bakhtiar, caused consternation with a statement made during an interview. “Regardless of the number of seats we win, whether one or 100, we will continue to be the PUK… we have weapons and nobody can take them from us,” he said.

He is referring to the fact that although the Iraqi Kurdish region is supposed to be a democracy, only two political parties have armed followers and more or less control local security forces. That is, the PUK and the KDP. 



Responding to that statement, a senior member of the Change movement, Qadir Haji Ali, told supporters at a rally that, “if we get one more seat than the PUK and KDP, we will take power from them within a week”.

All of which appears to be more about Iraqi Kurdish internal politics, than national issues. This analysis is supported by the fact that most of the campaigning politicians talk about solving Kurdish problems, rather than Iraqi ones. The unpaid salaries are a major topic. All the parties talk about how they will restore the Kurdish power that was lost after the independence referendum, even though the federal elections won’t help much with that.

There is also a campaign on Kurdish-language social media focused on the KDP and the PUK and how they will remain in power regardless of the outcome of the elections. Opposition politicians believe that this is supposed to suppress the youth vote – which would most likely tilt towards opposition parties rather than the KDP and PUK – by making young locals believe that things will never change and there is no point voting.

“Changing the power in Kurdistan is not as easy as it might be in real democracies,” concedes Yusuf Mohammed, a senior member of the Change movement. “but it’s not impossible.”

Interestingly enough Khasro Koran, a senior member of the KDP, seems amenable to that idea. “If one party wins a majority of votes, it would be able to form a government and we in the KDP believe in a peaceful transition of power,” he told NIQASH, speaking once again about regional elections rather than federal.

Right now, observers suggest that Kurdish politicians are waiting to see whether the federal elections result in their favour or not. They suggest that if the results are good for parties like the KDP, then they will agree to hold regional elections before the end of the year. If not, Kurdish voters might be waiting a longer time to have their say at home.

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