The Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) July 2009 parliamentary elections were touted as a sea change in Kurdish politics. For the first time, the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) of KRG President Massoud Barzani and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani faced a real challenge from the new Change List headed by the co-founder of the PUK Nishurwan Mustafa. Change ran on greater transparency and democracy. They ended up winning 25 of 111 seats, while the Service and Reform List, a coalition of leftist and Islamist parties, won 13. Since then the KDP and PUK have tried to cajole and bully these new opposition groups.
First, the KDP and PUK have tried to co-opt the Service and Reform List. The list was always a strange mix. On the one hand there were two Islamist groups, the Kurdistan Islamic Union and the Kurdistan Islamic Group, and on the other were the Kurdistan Socialist Democratic Party and the Future Party. The mixture of religious and secular parties always seemed to be a marriage of convenience. The KDP and PUK have tried to play on these divisions by offering ministries in the Kurdish government in return for them joining the ruling coalition. So far, the Kurdistan Socialist Democratic Party and its two seats, and the Future Party with one seat are on the verge of joining the KDP and PUK, and the Kurdistan Islamic Group with four seats are in negotiations to do the same. That leaves only the Kurdistan Islamic Union and the Change List as being committed to being in the opposition. Together they have 31 of 111 seats in the Kurdish assembly.
The PUK and KDP are trying to do something similar for the January 2010 national parliamentary elections. The two parties form the Kurdish Alliance in the legislature, and want all the other Kurdish parties to run as one list in the coming vote. They argue that since there are so many unresolved issues between the KRG and Baghdad, the Kurds need to form a united front. The Change List however, said that they will run separately, but are open to working with the Kurdish Alliance after the balloting in parliament.
At the same time, the PUK and KDP are continuing with their intimidation campaign against the Change List. Before the vote, Change supporters were losing their government jobs, during the election there were all kinds irregularities reported, and afterwards the Change List offices in Irbil were attacked, and their followers got into fights in Sulaymaniya. Since then, the Change List is accusing the ruling parties of firing their members in the peshmerga militia and security forces. Teachers have also said that those who voted for the Change List have been let go or demoted as well.
Kurdistan has been ruled by the PUK and KDP since it got its autonomy from Saddam following the 1991 Gulf War. The administration of the KRG has been noted for cronyism, corruption, tribalism, and a lack of transparency. The 2009 Kurdish elections were widely hailed as a transformative vote since it was the first time that the opposition received a sizeable proportion of the vote. The actions of the ruling parties since then however show that they are still thinking the same way. They are still in control, and want to maintain their position by any means whether by buying off the opposition or threatening them.
AK News, “Kurdish involvement in polls: one list vs. numerous lists,” 10/7/09
Hamad, Qassim Khidhir, “kurdish election lists,” Niqash, 6/30/09
Taha, Yaseen, “kurdish opposition splinters,” Niqash, 10/7/09
Tahir, Wrya Hama, “Kurdish Opposition Say Supporters Targeted in Workplace,” Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 10/2/09