At the beginning of May 2009 the President of the Kurdistan Regional Government Massoud Barzani announced that Kurdish parliamentary elections will be held on July 25. Originally they were planned for May. 42 parties and alliances with a total of 509 candidates will run for 111 seats. That’s an increase from previous elections. In 1992 only seven parties ran, and in 2005 thirteen. Since the 1990s Kurdish politics have been dominated by the two major parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) of Barzani. They plan on running together again in the 2009 vote. This year’s balloting may be the start of a sea change in Kurdish politics however as the former co-founder of the PUK his own party, which could break the monopoly on power held by the ruling groups.
2.5 million Kurds are registered to vote. Only those that reside in the three Kurdish provinces of Dohuk, Irbil, and Sulaymaniya are eligible. Eleven of the 111 seats are reserved for minorities. Five are to go to Turkmen, five for Christians, and one for Armenians. 30% are also to go to women. Despite some earlier controversy, the Iraqi Election Commission will supervise the voting. Currently the KDP holds 40 seats, followed by the 38 of the PUK. The next two parties, the Kurdistan Islamic Union only holds nine followed by the Turkmen Party with four.
Current Seats Held In The Kurdish Parliament
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
The biggest change in this year’s election is the fact that PUK co-founder Nishurwan Mustafa will run as the head of the Change List. Mustafa co-founded the PUK with Talabani, but later resigned in December 2006. Mustafa plans on running against the domination of the PUK and KDP, claiming that they are corrupt, autocratic, and have not provided services. Mustafa has a decided advantage heading into the balloting because he owns a large media company called Wisha, and is popular in Sulaymaniya. Since the KDP and PUK are roughly equal, Mustafa could play the insurgent and break that balance of power.
This comes on the heels of a number of defections and dissension within the PUK. In February 2009 a group of leading officials in the PUK politburo led by Deputy Secretary General Kosrat Rasoul Ali, who is also the Vice President of the Kurdistan Regional Government, threatened to resign unless Talabani instituted reforms in the party to make it more democratic, end corruption, and work towards greater transparency over its finances. Talabani ended up giving into their demands, and replaced the Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister of Kurdistan as well.
The next few months will be an interesting election cycle in Kurdistan. Mustafa will have to prove that he can use his media power and popularity to form a credible opposition party and sway voters to his cause. The PUK and KDP will also have to bring out the vote as they have come under increasing criticism from everyday Kurds along with their own party officials. This could be the beginning of a major change in the region’s politics if the hold of the PUK and KDP are really challenged.
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