Iraqi Kurdistan's parliamentary elections are scheduled to take place on September 30 this year and everyone expects the region’s largest, most popular party – the Kurdistan Democratic Party, or KDP, to win the most seats. This means that the region’s other two large parties – the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or PUK, and the Change movement – are only fighting for second place.
Voters hoped for change, but they have seen nothing come of their votes as the established parties hang onto their power.
It’s going to be a tight race because the popular base of both parties is similar. The Change movement was formed after senior members of the PUK broke away and today, the best known leaders of the Change movement were previous members of the PUK.
According to Iraqi Kurdistan’s election authorities, there are around 3 million eligible voters in the semi-autonomous, northern region. In the last regional elections, the Change movement managed to beat the PUK, coming second to the KDP. But in the recent Iraqi federal elections, held May this year, the Change movement appeared to have lost support again, coming third, with the KDP and PUK proving more popular.
This was of great concern to the Change movement and many members claimed that only electoral fraud could have caused their losses. “The results do not represent the real votes. According to our information, we won eight seats and the PUK won four in the May elections, but due to fraud, the results were reversed,” says Balen Ismail, a senior member of the Change movement. Ismael and others believe the Change movement won around 40 percent of the votes in Iraqi Kurdistan and that the PUK only won around 20 percent.
The PUK denies these accusations and says that manual recounting has shown this.
The Change movement plans a new initiative for the regional elections. “We will do everything we can to prevent electoral fraud from happening,” Ismael said.
The Kurdish province of Sulaymaniyah, where the PUK and the Change movement traditionally get more support, is key.
However there’s a big problem. Although Sulaymaniyah gets a sizeable proportion of seats in the local parliament due its population, there is still a lot of voter apathy here. That could be particularly bad for the Change movement.
Journalist Mohammed Raouf, who has written books about Kurdish elections as well as investigative features, does not think that turnout is going to improve in Sulaymaniyah. In fact, he thinks it could sink even lower, a factor that would suit mainstream parties like the KDP and the PUK, who often are better able to mobilize their supporters.
Raouf believes that most of those who would vote for the Change movement are the same people who have given up hope and are not turning up to elections. They have potentially voted for the oppositional parties, like the Change movement and the region’s Islamic parties in the past, hoping that they would make a difference. But they have seen nothing come of it as the established parties hang onto their power. So they don’t see the point of voting any more.