When Iraq’s parliament passed the provincial election law in September 2008 it delayed voting in the three provinces of Kurdistan, Dohuk, Irbil, and Sulaymaniyah. The date for balloting there was to be determined by the Kurdish Regional Government’s parliament. That has now been announced as May 19, 2009. For more than two decades, politics there have been dominated by the two major parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) of Kurdish President Massoud Barzani and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) led by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. Those two organizations will probably continue in that position, but there are increasing challenges to the PUK.
As reported before, President Talabani was recently forced into agreeing to a series of concessions about how he runs the PUK. Those included greater transparency over finances, fighting corruption, and more democratic practices. Talabani agreed to these changes after the Deputy Secretary General of the PUK Kosrat Rassoul, and four other politburo members threatened to resign. According to the on-line magazine Niqash, 16 of the 39 politburo and central committee members of the PUK supported their move. Seeking party unity before the elections, Talabani agreed to their demands. There are some who doubt that he will implement these promises though, because it would mean a loss of power for him and his followers.
The PUK’s problems may not be over either. According to the Iraqi paper Azzaman, the former Deputy Party leader Nishurawn Mustafa may form his own party to run in the May elections. Mustafa helped found the PUK with Talabani in 1975. In December 2006 he resigned, criticizing the Kurdistan Regional Government for being autocratic. Since then he has gone on to create a powerful media company that includes newspapers, a TV station, and a website. He has used these outlets to criticize the PUK for not improving the Kurdish economy, failing to raise the standard of living, and for attempting to control business. Under the agreement with the dissidents Talabani has agreed to open dialogue with Mustafa to try to bring him back into the PUK’s fold. If he agrees to create his own party, he could be a serious challenger.
Massoud Barzani of the KDP on the other hand has been demanding Kurdish authority over the vote. In late February 2009, Barzani announced that the Iraqi High Electoral Commission would not supervise the Kurdish elections. At the time the Kurdish parliament approved an election law that said the Iraqi Election Commission should organize the vote, but Barzani rejected it and demanded an independence Kurdish body have that duty.
The May 2009 elections will be the third held in Kurdistan. Previously voting was held in 1992 and 2005. Those two and the coming one will use a closed list system. That means the estimated 2.5 million eligible voters can only vote for parties and coalitions of parties called lists, not individuals. The victors will then select the politicians that will serve in the provincial governments. Iraq as a whole used this system in 2005. Some smaller Kurdish parties have complained about the closed list, but they have little power to change things.
Below are the results of the 1992 and 2005 votes for Kurdistan’s National Assembly (Parliament)
Total Votes Cast: 971,953
Invalid Votes: 4,724
Votes By Party:
Kurdistan Democratic Party: 438,979 votes, 45.3%
Patriotic Union of Kurdistan: 423,833 votes, 43.8%
Islamic Movement: 49,108 votes, 5.1%
Kurdistan Socialist Party: 24,882 votes, 2.6%
Iraqi Communist Party: 21,123 votes, 2.2%
Kurdistan Popular Democratic Party: 9,903 votes, 1.0%
Independent Democrats: 501 votes
Kurdistan Democratic Party: 51
Patriotic Union of Kurdistan: 49
Total Votes Cast: 1,753,919
Invalid Votes: 23,067
Votes By Party:
Democratic Patriotic Alliance of Kurdistan (Kurdistan Democratic Party, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, and 11 smaller parties): 1,570,663 votes, 89.5%
Islamic Group of Kurdistan: 85,237 votes, 4.86%
Kurdistan Toilers Party: 20,585 votes
Democratic People’s Democratic Movement: 11,748 votes
Kurdistan People’s Democratic Movement: 10,953
Independent List: 10,262 votes
Others: 44,471 votes
Members of the Democratic Patriotic Alliance of Kurdistan:
Kurdistan Democratic Party: 40
Patriotic Union of Kurdistan: 38
Kurdistan Islamic Union: 9
Turkmen Party: 4
Kurdistan Communist Party: 3
Kurdistan Socialist Democratic Party: 2
Assyrian Democratic Movement: 2
Chaldean Cultural Society: 1
Bet Nahrain Democratic Party: 1
Chaldean Democratic Union Party: 1
Farmers Movement Party: 1
Kurdistan Democratic National Union: 1
Independent Nouri Talabany: 1
Islamic Group of Kurdistan: 6
Kurdistan Toilers Party: 1
AK News, “Kurdistan parliament elections between closed and open lists,” 3/4/09
Azzaman, “Talabani Tries To Prevent His Party From Splitting And Rejects The Resignation Of Rasul,” 2/17/09
Goode, Erica, “Iraq Passes Provincial Elections Law,” New York Times, 9/25/08
Knights, Michael, “Significance of the Provincial Elections,” Arab Reform Bulletin, December, 2008
Knights, Michael and McCarthy, Eamon, “Provincial Politics in Iraq: Fragmentation or New Awakening?” Washington Institute for Near East Studies, April 2008
Kurdish Media.com, “Barzani rejects IHEC to supervise KRG Elections, Hawlati,” 2/26/09
Kurdistan National Assembly webpage
NINA, “Presidency reserved over IHEC supervising Kurdistan elections,” 2/25/09
Ose, Oshnag, “talabani battles new calls for reform,” Niqash, 3/4/09
Osman, Twana and Zagros, Roman, “Ex-Kurdish Leader Takes On Old Allies,” Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 11/12/08
PUKmedia, “President Barzani recommends establishing Election Committee in Kurdistan,” 2/27/09
Reuters, “Iraq’s Kurds to elect parliament on May 19,” 2/2/09
Wikipedia, “Iraqi Kurdistan legislative election, 2005”
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