Kurdistan’s election for its regional parliament took place on September 30 with some major glitches. Most notably, there was very low turnout and charges of cheating.
In October 2013 when Kurdistan last voted 73% of the electorate turned up. In 2018, that was down to 58.4%. Dohuk led the region with 61%, while Sulaymaniya was at the other end with 54%. In May, when all of Iraq went to the ballot box there was a similar low participation rate with just 44% taking part. In general, the Iraqi public has become increasingly cynical about the political class seeing them as only interested in enriching themselves and failing to fulfil their promises. In Kurdistan for example, there is also the disillusionment following the 2017 independence referendum, which completely backfired due to the hubris of President Massoud Barzani. The Kurds lost control of the disputed areas they occupied in 2014 during the war against the Islamic State along with nearly half of its oil revenues. There were also fears of the ruling parties cheating as they did in May, and that initially appears to have happened again.
Sep 2018 Voter Turnout By Province
There were several irregularities reported at voting centers. On September 28 when early voting took place for the security forces, an editor for Westga News was attacked by Asayesh in Sulaymaniya province, reporters were harassed in Dohuk and Halabja, and three film crews were blocked for entering a voting site. During the general balloting on September 30, gunmen stormed a polling station in Sulaymaniya and ran off with ballot papers and boxes. Most strikingly, the spokesman for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) said that the party rejected the results, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) claimed there was fraud in Sulaymaniya, and the KDP, Change, the Kurdistan Islamic Group, and the Kurdistan Islamic Union said people were using forged IDs to vote in Koya. Back in May, ballots were thrown out in Dohuk, Irbil and Sulamaniya when a recount was conducted pointing to both the KDP and PUK fixing votes. There were charges of the same tactics being used in 2013, and other elections in Kurdistan.
The two major parties already have very effective political machines and many loyal followers. The history of voting for the two, along with the patronage they dish out are powerful factors every time ballots are cast. It seems odd then that two feel it necessary to add fraud on top of their already inherent advantages, but it seems like they want to be assured that they gain as big a share as possible of seats, especially now that opposition parties have emerged. This is especially true of the PUK that came in third to Change the last time. In the past, similar complaints have come and gone with no consequences. The question is whether the parties will make something more this time like what happened with the May national elections, which led to a recount and dismissal of the Election Commission chiefs.
Nawzad, Kosar, “Fifteen violations against journalists in Kurdistan’s early voting: Report,” Kurdistan 24, 9/29/18
Rudaw, “LIVE: Polls close in Kurdistan Region’s parliamentary election,” 9/30/18
Al Sumaria, “Gunmen storm an electoral center in Sulaymaniya,” 9/30/18
- “Kurdistan Commission announces the participation rates in the elections,” 9/30/18