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Main Kurdish Parties Team Up

Does the new collaborative spirit between the two big Kurdish parties come too late to maximise their gains from the election?
By Rebaz Mahmood

Iraq’s Kurdish parties are mobilising for the January election in the hope that the poll will usher in a new era of stability. But although the two main parties are joining forces for the ballot, there is concern that the dual administration system they operate in the Kurdish region could weaken claims to greater independence.


Iraqi voters are scheduled to go to the polls on January 30 to choose a 275-member National Assembly which will replace the interim administration appointed by the Coalition Provisional Authority in June this year.


In addition, Iraqis living in the semi-autonomous northern region of Kurdistan will be asked to vote for candidates to their own 111-member parliament.


The three provinces that make up the Kurdish region are currently governed by two separate administrations, with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, PUK, in charge of the eastern part and the western section run by the Kurdistan Democratic Party, KDP.


The PUK and KDP have announced they will have joint political ticket for January’s election, in a refreshing sign of unity between two factions that fought a civil war in the mid-Nineties.


Members of both parties described the joint list as an attempt to maximise the number of seats Kurds can take in the National Assembly, which should in turn enable them to write Kurdish autonomy into the new constitution.


Taking this consolidation as their lead, smaller Kurdish parties are also forming coalitions to field common candidates.


But despite the apparent show of unity, some local politicians believe divisions inside the region have already weakened Kurdish chances of making political gains in the elections.


Iraq’s Transitional Administrative Law recognises a single Kurdistan regional government, a fact which calls into question the legitimacy of the current twin administrations.


“It would have been better to have united the two administrations long before now. This would have reinforced the Kurdish position,” said PUK member Aso Ali.


The KDP declined to comment on the matter.


Ahmed Hamid, a member of the Kurdistan Communist Party, agreed that the political divide could discredit Kurdish demands for more autonomy, “It’s a weakness. The Arab parties look at us and say, ‘you have three small governorates and two totally separate governments’.”


The Kurdistan Conservative Party said that while the current position is not ideal, the fact the two big parties are no longer at each others’ throats is a sign of progress. “One administration would be better for the election, but at least this is still better than civil war,” commented a spokesperson.


With question-marks still remaining over whether the elections will actually go ahead on schedule, the majority of Kurdish parties interviewed by IWPR are opposed to postponing the vote.


But a few were in favour of rescheduling it.


“What is the point in a rushed election with imperfect results” asked Musheer Ahmed Soorchi. member of the Kurdistan Conservative Party leadership


The Kurdistan Islamic Group believes that holding an election without adequate Sunni representation across Iraq could have a negative impact on the country’s future. “If the Sunnis are not fully represented in parliament, the constitution will be unbalanced. For this reason, we think it better to postpone the election,” said party member Muhammed Hakim.


But whatever they think of the timing of elections, all parties agreed that voting for a new Kurdish parliament was long overdue.


The region’s elections are widely expected to end the dual administration system, with all parties saying they are ready to accept the results of the vote, providing it is deemed to be fair.


“We will accept defeat in the same way that we would accept success,” said the PUK’s Aso Ali. “But if we are wronged in the name of democracy and our rights are violated, we will take a stand.”


While the political parties may be ready to embrace the democratic process, the stiffest resistance may come from voter apathy. Members of the smaller parties told IWPR that the dual government system, the lack of an active Kurdish parliament, and misuse of power by the two main parties have eroded confidence among the electorate.


To combat this, they say they will encourage voters to focus on the future of Iraqi Kurdistan, not its difficult past.


Rebaz Mahmood is an IWPR trainee.


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