Q&A: Iraqi Kurdistan elections

Q&A: Iraqi Kurdistan elections

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2009/07/22 17:36:10 GMT

Iraqi Kurds go to the polls on 25 July to elect a regional parliament
and a new regional president.

This is the third parliamentary election since Iraqi Kurds established
their semi-autonomous region in Irbil, Sulaymaniyah and Duhok
Governorates in the north of the country in 1991.

The two main parties, which have dominated Iraqi Kurdish politics for
the last three decades, are being challenged by a new grouping called
Change List, which is campaigning for transparency and reform. For the
first time, public accountability and corruption could be an election

Also, the incumbent Kurdistan Region president, Massoud Barzani, is
seeking re-election.

Who are the major players?

The ruling coalition of the Kurdistan Democratic Party or KDP, led by
Mr Barzani and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or PUK, led by Iraqi
President Jalal Talabani – is the favourite to win, but with a reduced
majority. At the last election, the two parties won 104 out of 111
seats, partly because their coalition included several smaller Kurdish
parties which are contesting the current vote independently.

The new grouping, Change List, founded by former PUK deputy leader
Nawshirwan Mustafa, has emerged as a strong contender. Mr Mustafa, who
runs a media company, resigned from his PUK post in December 2006,
reportedly over disagreements on party reforms, 30 years after
co-founding it.

Another contender is a coalition of four smaller Kurdish parties, who
are hoping to increase their presence in parliament. These are two
Islamic parties, the Kurdistan Islamic Union and Kurdistan Islamic
Group, and two leftist parties, the Kurdistan Socialist Democratic
Party and the Independent Kurdistan Toilers’ Party.

The contenders are hoping that the poll will lead to the emergence of
an effective opposition for the first time in the region’s 18 years as
a separate political entity.

What are the main issues?

The KDP-PUK coalition highlights the stable security situation and what
it calls "improved public services" in the region, often contrasting
this with what they see as a volatile situation in central and southern
Iraq. They also argue that their alliance is the most effective way of
staving off "foreign threats".

Other groups, particularly Change List, say they want a more
transparent government, genuine opposition and strict anti-corruption

Over the past few years, the public has often complained about
corruption, cronyism and the two parties’ control over the market, a
position often reflected in reports by local and international
organizations on human rights, freedom of expression and transparency
in the region.

How does the system work?

Parliament has 111 seats. Eleven seats are allocated for the minorities
– five for the Turkomans, five for the Assyrians and one for the
Armenians. At least 30 seats must be allocated for women.

Around 500 candidates contest the seats using a closed-list method.
Voters select a list, as opposed to individual MPs.

Who will observe the vote?

The Iraqi Independent High Electoral Commission will oversee the vote,
but its officials have said that international monitors will also be

How has the campaign gone so far?

Some 24 political groups are taking part in the election and have been
campaigning hard since 22 June, some using their own media outlets,
hanging posters in public places, organising rallies and even posting
material on popular websites like YouTube.

The elections seem to have revived a renewed interest in politics not
seen in the region since the historic 1992 parliamentary elections.
This could be because of the wider array of choice and the public’s
apparent frustration with the ruling parties.

There have been accusations that the ruling coalition has been using
state funds for electioneering purposes. Some opposition politicians
have also raised fears about an eruption of violence, calling on the
government to ensure that he security forces – heavily dominated by PUK
and KDP loyalists – do not interfere in the elections.

Who is eligible to vote?

Some 2.5 million people are eligible to vote. Kurds living in
ethnically disputed areas in neighbouring regions of Kirkuk, Diyala and
Ninawa are not qualified to vote. There will be no polling centres

How will the president be elected?

This is the first time the president is being elected through a direct
public vote. The move has been criticized by sections of the Kurdish
media and some politicians on the ground that the region’s
parliamentary system dictates electing the president by MPs.

Who are the presidential candidates?

There are five presidential candidates. These include the incumbent
president, Massoud Barzani, the head of a smaller Kurdish party, Halo
Ibrahim Ahmad, UK-educated writer and academic Kamal Mirawdali,
Irbil-based Safin Hajji Sheikh Muhammad and Sulaymaniya-based Hussein

According to recent media reports, the four Kurdish candidates have
been discussing the possibility of nominating just one candidate to
challenge the incumbent.

BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television,
press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than
70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaux