Iraqi Kurds elect regional parliament with hope for change

By Jamal Hashim, Liang Youchang

ARBIL, Iraq, (PNA/Xinhua) — Voters in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region went to the polls Saturday to elect their parliament with the hope for a change in the incoming legislature.

About 2.8 million eligible voters are entitled to cast ballots in the elections, the fourth of their kind since the Iraqi Kurds established the region in 1991, as 1,129 candidates are vying for the 111 seats in the regional legislature.

Voters lined up at the polling stations, which were open from 7:00 a.m. local time (0400 GMT) to 5:00 p.m. (1400 GMT), in the three Kurdish provinces in northern Iraq — Arbil, Sulaymaniyah and Duhok.

Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish region and leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), cast his vote at a polling station, just outside the region’s capital city of Arbil, without speaking to the media.

The region’s Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, a nephew of Barzani, described the voting day as “historic” while casting his vote at a luxury hotel in Arbil.

“Today is a historic day for the Kurdish people and we have taken another step in the region to promote democracy,” he said. ” The people of Kurdistan are the only winners in these elections.”

The regional prime minister’s remarks were echoed by many Kurdish voters.

“This is a major step to make our life better and better in the region. We have been doing well, but we still want the best for our region,” Taha, 38, said at a polling station in central Arbil.

“I voted for Massoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party because President Barzani managed to make Kurdistan a modern region and brought prosperity, and I hope with my vote I am doing my part in safeguarding the future of my Kurdistan,” Taha said as he proudly showed his finger marked with purple ink.

However, some other voters focused on the need for more efforts to deal with corruption and concentration of power as well as to improve the public services.

The two main parties in the region — the KDP and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), led by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani — dominate Kurdish politics over the past decades.

“I think we need to get rid off the old politicians who did little to serve the people. I wish the elections will bring new people who are capable of fighting corruption and bureaucracy,” Ahmed Bayez, 29, a lawyer who said he voted for the opposition Gorran (Change) movement.

“But still the situation here (in the region) is better than in Baghdad and other parts of Iraq, where you find the sectarian division between the Shiites and Sunnis in addition to the corruption and other problems,” Bayez added.

Many observers believe that this year’s parliamentary elections could change the region’s political landscape as it is the first time since the 1992 elections that the two main regional parties are competing individually in the race.

The KDP and the PUK ran on joint lists in the last two rounds of elections and ruled the region through a coalition government as part of a wider power-sharing arrangement. The two parties won a total of 59 seats in the last elections in 2009.

However, the KDP-PUK duopoly in Kurdish politics is facing a challenge this time as the PUK is fighting to maintain its position since its veteran leader Talabani has been out of the political spotlight since a reported stroke in December 2012.

The Gorran movement, the largest opposition party in the autonomous Kurdish region, is hoping to change the region’s political landscape as it is getting increasingly popular, especially in the PUK’s traditional heartland of Sulaymaniyah.

The Gorran movement, led by former PUK deputy leader Nawshirwan Mustafa, won 25 seats in its debut in the 2009 elections.

The KDP, which has been traditionally strong in the provinces of Duhok and Arbil, is widely expected to win the largest number of seats in the race but still will likely need the backing of another major party to form a stable government.