On July 25, 2009 the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) will hold elections for not only its parliament, but also a new constitution. 24 lists are running for 111 seats in the Kurdistan legislature. This year’s vote looks to be the most competitive since the first Kurdish election held in 1992. Then only seven parties ran, followed by thirteen in 2005. The two sets of balloting confirmed the dominant role of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Both times they ran together, and took 104 of 111 seats in the last vote in 2005. This time the two are facing a serious challenge from PUK co-founder Nishurwan Mustafa and his Change List. He has a powerful media company, Wisha that he has run since 2006 to get out his message of reform. The PUK has also gone through a series of internal revolts over corruption, autocratic rule, and lack of transparency that have led to many defections. Wisha claims that 30,000 PUK members have been fired for associating with the Change List, while 200 officials have been expelled from the party as well for doing the same. Some early estimates believe that Mustafa could get 20% of the vote. Even that amount, could break the hegemony of the PUK-KDP alliance within the Kurdish parliament.
There are several other smaller reform parties running, along with a host of candidates for the regional president. Among those are the Service and Reform List made up of Islamic groups like the Kurdistan Islamic Group and the Kurdistan Islamic Union. The Progress List headed by Halo Ibrahim Ahmed, the brother-in-law of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, and the Kurdish Reform Movement with its leader Abdul Musawer Barzani, cousin of KRG President Massoud Barzani. He is running for re-election to that post, along with Ahmed of the Progress List, London scholar Kamal Mirawdeli, and two businessmen, Hussein Karmiani and Safin Sheikh Mohammed.
In July Kurds will also vote for a controversial new constitution. The Kurdish parliament passed a draft of the document in mid-June. Among other things, it lays claim to Kirkuk, and other disputed territories in Ninewa and Diyala, calling them part of greater Kurdistan. These areas are one of the major divisions between Kurdistan and Baghdad. It is also playing out at the provincial level between the ruling al-Hadbaa party and the PUK-KDP led Fraternal List in Ninewa.
The 2009 election in Kurdistan could be a turning point for the region. If the Change List and the other reform tickets are able to gain a sizeable amount of seats they could break the strangle hold the KDP and PUK have over the legislature. That would only be a first step however. It’s been said that the parliament is only a rubber stamp as the PUK and KDP leaders make all the major decisions behind the scenes. Each party also runs its own peshmerga militia and Aseyash security force that have been accused of going after their opponents. This is part of separate administrations the two parties have, and a unification agreement between the two reserves all top posts in the government only for themselves. Presidents and councils of universities and scholarships are also only open to PUK and KDP party members, and any large business dealings in the region have to include party members, usually relatives or tribal members of the Barzani and Talabani families. Despite the image that the Kurdistan Regional Government likes to portray of itself, it still has a very long way to go to become an actual democratic region of Iraq.
Kurdish Lists Participating In The July 2009 Election
Made up of the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. The list is headed by Barham Saleh of the PUK and current Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq. The Kurdistan List calls for maintain the status quo. The KDP was founded in 1946 by Mullah Mustafa Barzani, the father of KRG President Massoud Barzani. Massoud Barzani is the current head of the KPD, Fadhil Mirani is the leader of the KDP politburo, and Nechirvan Barzani is the KRG Prime Minister. The PUK was formed b Jalal Tabani when he broke from the KDP in 1975. Kosrat Rasul, the KRG’s Vice President, is the head of the PUK’s politburo. Saleh is number three in the PUK.
Former PUK co-founder Nishurwan Mustafa is the head of the Change List. He left the PUK in December 2006 criticizing it for not reforming itself. Most of the list is made up of former PUK officials. They want to separate political parties from the government and economy, resolve the dispute between Baghdad and Kurdistan through dialogue, and provide more transparency in the administration and budget.
SERVICE AND REFORM LIST
The List is made up of the Kurdistan Islamic Union, the Islamic Group of Kurdistan, the Kurdistan Socialist Democratic Party and the Future Party. It says it is fighting against corruption in the current government, claims disputed areas as part of Kurdistan, and wants to rule guided by Islam. Ali Bapir heads the Islamic Group of Kurdistan. He was arrested by the Americans in 2003 for ties with terrorist groups, and is said to be close to Iran. The Kurdistan Socialist Democratic Party is led by Muhammad Haji Mahmud, the Future Party is headed by Qadir Aziz. It is related to the Muslim Brotherhood.
KURDISTAN CONSERVATIVE PARTY
Zaid Surchi, a tribal leader is the head of the party. It has ties with the PUK.
ISLAMIC MOVEMENT OF KURDISTAN LIST
Shaykh Uthman Abdul-Aziz formed the list with other Sunni mullahs in 1979. It is based in Halabja, and headed by Sidiq Abdul Aziz and Ahmed Warte. It calls for the government to be based upon Islam, and wants greater transparency.
SOCIAL JUSTICE AND FREEDOM LIST
It is made up of the Kurdistan Communist Party, the Kurdistan Toilers Party, the Kurdistan Independent work Party, the Kurdistan Pro-Democratic Party, and the Democratic Movement of Kurdistan People. It calls for equal rights, rights for farmers, more housing, and secularism.
INDEPENDENT YOUTH LIST
Hiwa Abdul Karim Aziz, a journalist is the leader of the list, which only includes 10 people. It says it is standing for the young people of the KRG.
KURDISTAN REFORM MOVEMENT
Abdul Musawwar al-Barzani, cousing of Massoud Barzani, heads the movement. It calls for an end to corruption, rule of law, and human rights
Jalal Talabani’s brother-in-law Halo Ibrahim Ahmed heads the list. They call for better living conditions. Ahmed was part of a dissident PUK group that was kicked out of the party.
KURDISTAN DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL PARTY LIST
Was founded in 1995 and calls for uniting Kurds across Iraq, Turkey, Iran and Syria. It wants more housing and women and youth rights.
KURDISTAN TOILERS AND WORKERS PARTY LIST
Calls for rule of law in the KRG.
IRAQI CONSTITUTIONAL PARTY
Was founded by Iraqi Interior Minister Jawad Bolani, who says he is no longer its official leader.
KURDISTAN BRIGHT FUTURE LIST
Is headed by Muhammad Saleh Hama Faraj, who lived in England until 2008. He wants the political parties out of administration and the justice system.
5 seats have been reserved for Turkmen
IRBIL TURKMEN LIST
Is led by Sherdil Tahsin Arsalan, Tafa Rostman Qasab, Thaura Saleh, Nafeh Rostam, and Artham Abdul Karim. It wants Kirkuk to be annexed, and it is against Turkish influence.
TURKMEN REFORM LIST
Is headed by Abdul Qadir Zangana. It wants more power for Turkmen and is against Turkish influence.
TURKMEN DEMOCRATIC MOVEMENT IN KURDISTAN
Is led by Karkhi Alti Barmak, who calls for Turkmen unity. It also wants Kirkuk to be annexed, and is against Turkish influence.
INDEPENDENT TURKMEN LIST
Is led by Kanhan Shakir Aziz. It calls for Kirkuk to be an independent region
5 seats have been reserved for Christians
UNIFIED CHALDEAN LIST
Is made up of the Chaldean Union Party and the Chaldean National Council
CHALDEAN SYRIAC ASSYRIAN AUTONOMY LIST
Is led by Iraqi parliamentarian Yunadam Kanna. It wants a greater role for Christians in the peshmerga and Asayesh.
NATIONAL COUNCIL OF CHALDEAN SYRIAC ASSYRIANS
Is led by Sarkis Aghajan Mamendo. He calls for the Ninewa plaints to be annexed.
2 seats have been set aside for Armenians
Aram Shahine Dawood Bakoyan, Eshkhan Malkin Sargisyan, and Aertex Morses Sargisyan are running for these seats.
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Agence France Presse, “Iraq Kurds pass new constitution to include Kirkuk,” 6/24/09
Amnesty International, “Hope and Fear, Human rights in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq,” April 2009
Hamad, Qassim Khidhir, “kdp and puk face election challenge,” Niqash, 5/12/09
- “Kurdish election lists,” Niqash, 6/30/09
Jumani, Kamal, “kurdistan prepares for elections,” Niqash, 6/25/09
Khalil, Lydia, “Stability in Iraqi Kurdistan: Reality or Myth,” Brookings Institution, June 2009
Mahmoud Rebaz, “Election Fever Rises in Kurdistan,” Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 6/17/09