SUN 17 - 2 - 2019
Oct 1, 2018
The Daily Star
Iraq Kurdish party refuses to recognize election results
IRBIL/SULAIMANIYAH, Iraq: One of the dominant Kurdish parties in northern Iraq said it would not recognize the results of Sunday’s parliamentary election, injecting political uncertainty into a region still demoralized by a failed independence bid. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan said its decision to ignore the results, which have yet to be announced, was based on what it described as fraud in the voting process.
The PUK is competing with its longtime rival the Kurdistan Democratic Party in the election as discontent grows with perceived corruption and economic hardship.
With a weak opposition, the political dynasties were expected to extend their power-sharing arrangement in the land of 6 million people, which gained semi-autonomous status after the 1991 Gulf War.
Veteran KDP leader Masoud Barzani has managed to retain a support base even though he led an independence bid that brought humiliation and hardship for the Kurds after military and economic retaliation from Baghdad.
Baghdad imposed economic penalties and sent federal troops to push Kurdish forces out of oil fields vital for the region’s economy, depriving it of a key lifeline.
And in another blow, Iraq’s Parliament in March passed a budget that saw Kurdistan’s slice of the federal budget drop from 17 percent to 12.6 percent.
Splits within the PUK could give the KDP the upper hand in their power-sharing arrangement, which has been fraught with tensions.
While criticism of the ruling Kurdish establishment dominated for decades by the Barzani and the Talabani families has grown more vocal, a weak opposition means many voters may stick to traditional leaders.
“I don’t know who I will vote for, but our family has always supported the KDP. My son will pick a candidate for me,” said Halima Ahmad, 65, as she walked with a cane in the city of Irbil, the seat of the Kurdistan Regional Government.
Preliminary results are expected within 72 hours.
There are 111 seats being contested in the election, including 11 reserved for ethnic minorities.
Kurdistan had enjoyed an economic boom after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein, as the rest of the country sank into violence.
But the emergence of Daesh (ISIS) in 2014 coupled with tumbling oil prices battered the region’s economy.
Since 2014, Iraqi Kurdistan has borrowed more than $4 billion to stay afloat, according to some experts, and before the doomed referendum it had chalked up debt of around $12 billion.
According to official figures, 87 percent of households across the region, home to around 6 million people, eke out a living on less than $850 per month.
“The future authorities must look after the people, especially the poor,” said Soran Rassoul, an unemployed man who voted in Sulaimaniyah, Kurdistan’s second city. Another voter, Hikmet Hakim, agreed. “We demand from the new government security and that they deal well with the economic situation,” said the 49-year-old, who wore traditional clothes as he cast his vote in Sulaimaniyah.
The election is not expected to change the political map in Kurdistan, according to experts, but could shed light on the divisions that emerged after the 2017 referendum.
At midday the Independent High Elections and Referendum Commission said turnout was 16-23 percent in a breakdown of provinces.
At the Chenar School for Girls polling center, turnout by 3 p.m. local time was less than 35 percent, poll worker Shaaban Kazem said.
“The participation rate is very weak,” lawyer and independent observer Belnd Omar said.
The number of voters has shrunk in recent elections as the region’s stagnant politics, unpaid public sector salaries and corruption have undermined the population’s faith in politics.
Observers from two opposition parties said that some people tried to use fake identification to vote but were stopped.
The claim could not be verified independently by Reuters.
Kurdish opposition parties did poorly when Iraq held federal elections in May.
But multiple allegations that the KDP and PUK had committed election fraud not confirmed in a subsequent recount may sway some voters in their favor.
Gorran, the main opposition movement, has been weakened by infighting and the death of its founder and leader Nawshirwan Mustafa last year.
“I wanted to make sure I voted early. I gave my vote to Gorran and hope for the best,” said Omar Mahmoud Abdullah, 52, at a polling station set up at Shireen School in Sulaimaniyah, which is a stronghold of the PUK.
At another polling station in Sulaimaniyah, lawyer Hasan Dalloush, 65, also said he was voting for the opposition.
“If there’s no fraud in this election, I’ll feel good about it. But the parties in power always want to commit fraud, it’s the only way they stay in power,” he said.
“I will never vote for the parties in power. Today I voted for the opposition,” Dalloush added.
Iraq's Kurds hold elections for regional parliament
IRBIL, Iraq: Iraq's self-ruled Kurdish region held its long-delayed parliamentary elections Sunday, a year after a vote for independence sparked a punishing backlash from Baghdad, leaving Kurdish leaders deeply divided.
More than 700 candidates are vying for 111 seats in the elections, in which nearly 3.5 million Kurds were eligible to vote. Eleven seats are reserved for religious and ethnic minorities: five for Christians, five for Turkmen candidates and one for the Armenian community.
It's unclear how much change the elections could bring or whether the vote would only cement Iraqi Kurdish divisions further. Polls closed in the early evening and unofficial results were expected to start coming in later Sunday.
The last parliamentary elections in Iraq's Kurdish region were in 2013, but the assembly stopped meeting in 2015 amid internal political tensions and the war against Daesh (ISIS). The political deadlock also delayed new elections, which were originally planned for last November.
Iraqi Kurdish politics have long been dominated by Masoud Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party and the rival Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, which is riven by infighting. Those two factions are expected to win the lion's share of the vote.
By noon, turnout was low, with many blaming the regional election commission's new requirement that voters show two forms of ID. Bashdar Ali, an observer from the Shams Network for Election Observation in Iraq, said the commission issued the guidelines late Saturday night.
Iraq's Kurds established a regional government in 1992 after the U.S. enforced a no-fly zone across the north following the Gulf War. After the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein, the Kurds secured constitutional recognition of their autonomy and gained more power.
Since then, they have been at loggerheads with Baghdad over rights to develop and to export oil and gas as well as the so-called disputed territories - lands stretching from the Syrian border to Iran that the Kurds claim as part of their autonomous region, including the northern city of Kirkuk, a major oil hub.
The Kurds took control of Kirkuk and other disputed territories in the summer of 2014 as Daesh rampaged across northern and central Iraq. But after last September's referendum, in which more than 90 percent voted for independence, federal forces retook Kirkuk and other areas with only scattered fighting. The loss of the disputed territories was a major blow for Barzani, who had championed the referendum.
The Iraqi government rejected the referendum, as did Iraq's neighbors and the international community, including the United States. The Baghdad government, as well as neighboring Turkey and Iran, shut down the Kurdish region's airports and border crossings in response to the referendum. They were reopened after a federal court dismissed the referendum.
The fallout from the referendum has left Kurdish leaders bitterly divided, and has exacerbated a long-running financial crisis in the region, fueling widespread anger at the main Kurdish political parties.
"What I am hoping for is to have a better life," Ismail Mohammed said after voting. "I am a retired man but I am asking that they fix the salaries for everybody, not only me - for all the government employees and the poor people."
Ali Arab Sultan, a teacher, said voting is a "national and religious duty, so that we may have a better future."
"Let's hope that God will change the current situation into a better one," he said.
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