Iraqi Kurdistan’s Next Parliament: Young, Media-Savvy - And Undemocratic
Names of contenders for Iraqi Kurdistan’s regional elections have been submitted. Many of the candidates are younger and only a few senior politicians are running. That’s problematic, local analysts say.
Supporters of the Change movement in Iraqi Kurdistan. (photo: Hama Sur)
Despite various rumours to the contrary, the regional elections in the semi-autonomous northern area of Iraqi Kurdistan will be going ahead in September. All of those who wish to participate have now submitted their candidate lists to the local election authorities – and its making for interesting reading.
The lists are feature the names of media people, younger people and inexperienced candidates. Missing are the names of more senior politicians. These trends are causing comment amongst voters and analysts.
The region’s largest political party, the Kurdistan Democratic Party, or KDP, has selected 100 candidates. Five percent of its candidates are journalists and between 35 and 40 percent are younger than usual. The KDP also chose the youngest member of its party to head this list of candidates.
Given the nature of their work, journalists are often seen as representing the concerns of ordinary people.
The region’s major opposition party, the Change movement, also has 100 candidates and among these, the best known as those who work at the KNN television channels, which is closely affiliated with the Change movement. Of their 100 candidates, there are four broadcasters and the head of the list is Ali Hama Salih, a well-known former journalist. Around half of their list is also younger.
“Youthfulness is part of the Change movement’s identity,” Zmanko Jalal, a senior member of the Change movement and supervisor of electoral procedure for the party, explained to NIQASH. “Every previous election, we have also had a high percentage of younger people running.”
It is also noticeable that the candidates do not include any of the Change movement’s most senior members, those who run the party’s executive offices. “Our bloc has many sectors,” Jalal said, “Our structure is horizontal and the leader of our group in parliament will become one of the leaders of the party.”
The Kurdish Islamic parties are also joining in the trend but perhaps not quite as enthusiastically. The Kurdistan Islamic Union has 60 candidates; 9 percent of them are journalists and around 20 percent are younger. The head of their list is also an individual who previously worked in the media.
“The people select their candidates,” says Qassim Galaly, who is looking after the Islamic Union’s election activities. “And a senior party member might not win if he runs.”
He is referring to the style of representation Iraqi Kurdistan has: voters influence who gets elected from each party, and how MPs are ranked. Unpopular MPs might get a shot at a seat with a system of closed lists, where the party selects the winners, but won’t do well with open lists.
Another of the Islamic parties, the Islamic Group of Kurdistan, has four journalists from their own TV channel, Bayam, running on their behalf as well as one ex-journalist. The list’s head, Soran Omar, is also an ex-reporter.
One of Iraqi Kurdistan’s newer parties, the Coalition for Democracy and Justice, is participating for the first time in regional elections and has fielded 100 candidates, of which about half are younger. There are three members of the media.
Ghamgin Kosar is one of them and she believes that journalists and other media personalities have a better chance of winning. “Nobody needs to be introduced to these people,” she argues. “They are stars and they are loved by the ordinary people. The other part of this equation is that journalists are often seen to be politically savvy and as holding the powerful to account by asking the tricky questions. Other people don’t get that opportunity.”
The job of parliamentarians – to monitor government performance, work on technicalities of laws, do political analysis and hold institutions to account – can all be done by journalists, Kosar says. In fact many of them are already doing it.
Often political parties resolve their problems using media which makes journalists more powerful, as well as being well known, suggests Bishwa Horamani, a journalist from the Rudaw channel, which is affiliated with the KDP, for whom Horamani is a candidate.
“Given the nature of their work, journalists are often seen as representing the concerns of ordinary people,” Horamani says. “Journalists are well aware of the situation on the ground here.”
As for all the youthful candidates, this is generally seen to be window dressing. The number of individuals who lead the parties or are senior members who are running for office in September can literally be counted on one hand. It is clear to everyone that if the less experienced and younger members of a party are elected, they will certainly be consulting with the senior politicians behind the scenes. The elder statesmen may not be running for office, but they will most likely be pulling the strings, given past experience in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Hokaw Jato, who heads the Shams Network, which was established in 2004 and includes 113 Iraqi NGOs from all over the country to monitor elections, thinks there is both good and bad about the number of young and media-related candidates.
“On one hand it is good because it allows all sectors of the society to participate in the elections,” Jato told NIQASH. “On the other hand, the absence of the senior politicians in the elections weakens the democratic mechanism and institutions.”
Jato thinks it’s also a system error because the current system allows voters influence on the order in which any party’s candidates are elected. “This poses the risk that the senior officials, who are better known, won’t win seats if the public don’t like them.”
Changing the electoral system might help this somewhat, Jato says. If there were also some sort of closed lists then senior officials could be elected, simply for being part of their party and not on the strength of their personalities. After all, after years in politics, it is hard to stay as popular as you were when you were an unknown quantity.
“In Kurdistan we’re not used to having senior politicians in parliament,” says Khasro Koran, who runs the KDP’s election office. “Even though that is how it happens in most other countries. The battle is supposed to happen in parliament but that political culture hasn’t reached Kurdistan yet.”
And when younger politicians and fresh faces then consult with more senior politicians, who were not elected, Jato concludes, that puts faith in the regional democracy at further risk.