After the September 2017 Independence Referendum, the two main Kurdish ruling parties found themselves in a quandary. President Masoud Barzani of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) was humiliated by the fiasco that followed the election where the Kurds gave up not only Kirkuk but almost all the disputed areas they had sought to annex following the fall of Saddam Hussein. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) on the other hand was not only accused of selling out to Baghdad by ordering its Peshmerga to fall back in the face of the federal forces, but was deeply divided internally between two main factions. Faced with these issues the two parties decided to delay elections so that they could stay in power.
The Kurdistan Election Commission recently announced that the November 1 presidential and parliamentary elections in Kurdistan were called off. On October 18, the Election Commission said it stopped preparations for the vote because no candidates were registered. It said it was waiting for the Kurdish parliament to decide on what would happen next. October 24, the legislature let it be known that there would be an eight-month delay. The Change Party disputed that. Its candidate, Mohammed Tofiq Rahim went to the Election Commission office on October 3, the deadline to register, but the Commission said he was too late. No other candidates signed up for the presidential race.
The opposition parties were furious with this decision. Change called it a “coup”. It and the Kurdistan Islamic Group had been worried about this happening, and had been calling for the government and President Barzani to step down for a national salvation government. Barham Salah, formerly of the PUK, who has created his own party now the Coalition for Democracy and Justice, had been making similar statements. These groups have no power however since the Kurdistan parliament and the Change ministers were dismissed in October 2015 by President Barzani when they opposed him staying in office after his term expired in August 2015.
The KDP and PUK fell on different sides of the fence after the Kurdish referendum. Many in the PUK were openly opposed to the vote thinking it was ill planned and only a mechanism for Barzani to stay in power, while others fully supported the vote. The KDP on the other hand basked in the limelight of the election until Baghdad began imposing all kinds of sanctions upon the Kurdistan region, and eventually demanded authority over all the disputed areas in northern Iraq. The two began accusing each other of betrayal in the aftermath. Despite this huge chasm, the two came to an important agreement, that they would stay in power by calling off the November elections. The two parties have ruled Kurdistan since the 1990s, and are now devolving to that former situation where each ran their own fiefs. The ruling elites are too busy attempting to deal with the referendum aftermath, dealing with their internal divisions, and attempting to consolidate power over their regions that they do not want to be bothered by elections. Kurdistan has always been more about family and tribal politics rather than institutions and democracy, and this is just the latest example of that.
Bas News, “Barzani Calls for Kurdistan’s Elections to Be Held on Time: Senior Assistant,” 10/14/17
eKurd, “Kurdistan electoral commission reject Gorran presidential candidate,” 10/7/17
- “Opposition calls on Kurdistan’s ‘illegitimate’ president Barzani to step down,” 10/23/17
Iraq News Network, “Change demands Barzani to step down and dismiss the government,” 10/21/17
Al Mirbad, “Calls for the formation of a national salvation government in Kurdistan under the supervision of the United Nations,” 10/19/17
NRT, “Gorran, KIG Express Worries Of Attempts To Delay General Elections,” 10/12/17
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, “Iraqi Kurdistan Elections Delayed By Eight Months,” 10/24/17
Rudaw, “Barham Salih’s party calls for transitional Kurdistan government,” 10/19/17
- “Commission halts preparations for November 1 elections,” 10/18/17
- “Gorran calls parliament extension a ‘coup,’” 10/24/17
- “Presidential elections in limbo with no confirmed candidates,” 10/3/17