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Kurdistan Democratic Party

KDP: Iraqi Kurdistan: Election Fever Rises

Kurdistan Democratic Party 45%

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A record 24 parties and coalitions will compete for parliamentary seats in the Kurdistan Regional Government's July 25 elections, which will also elect the KRG's president


Competition stiff for parliamentary seats in what many believe will be a hotly-contested campaign.
Election fever has hit the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah ahead of a highly anticipated poll that could change the landscape of Kurdish politics. 

A record 24 parties and coalitions will compete for parliamentary seats in the Kurdistan Regional Government's July 25 elections, which will also elect the KRG's president. Five candidates are running for the regional presidency. 

Analysts and politicians are anticipating a hard-fought parliamentary campaign, especially in Sulaimaniyah - the largest of Kurdistan's three provinces - where an independent contender is challenging the supremacy of the two leading Kurdish parties. 

The Kurdistan Democratic Party, KDP, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, PUK, which have dominated Kurdish politics for the past three decades, are viewed by many as heroic defenders of minority Kurds and the north's most experienced leaders. Others claim that the parties have failed citizens, who complain of widespread corruption, poor services and nepotism among party loyalists. 

Campaigning has yet to begin officially in Iraqi Kurdistan, but in the streets, teahouses and private homes of Sulaimaniyah, people talk excitedly about the forthcoming polls. Party media feed the excitement by advocating their candidates and slamming their opponents. 

The KDP and PUK led an alliance that won 104 of the 111 parliamentary seats in the KRG's 2005 parliamentary elections. Thirteen parties and coalitions contested the election that year, with only three gaining seats. 

The political scene in Kurdistan is vastly different today, said Aram Jamal, manager of the Sulaimaniyah-based Kurdish Institute for Elections. 

"Because there are separate and independent lists, there is competition," he said. "The public seems excited." 

Tahir Mohammed Amin, head of the elections commission's Sulaimaniyah office, said a high turnout is expected. 

"There seems to be a great response from voters who are eager to register," he said. 

Sulaimaniyah is a PUK stronghold, with the region's personality-dominated politics clearly on display. Pictures of PUK leader and Iraqi president Jalal Talabani and KRG president Massoud Barzani, who is widely favoured to win re-election, are plastered in shops and on buildings. Barzani is president of the KDP. 

Photos of rival candidate Nawshirwan Mustafa - a former PUK leader who now owns a powerful media company, Wisha - are also prominently on display. 

Mustafa, whose campaign centres on a single theme - change - is considered the primary challenger to the PUK- and KDP-led Kurdistani List. Mustafa led a failed push for reform within the PUK and created his slate after losing a power struggle for the party leadership with Talabani. 

Talabani provided the seed money for Wisha, which was established in 2006. The company, which includes a television station, newspaper and website, is now independent and highly critical of local leaders. 

Slates are only permitted to campaign in a set period of time, the dates for which have yet to be announced. But politicians are getting their messages across by reaching out to the public unofficially, including through party media outlets which are backing their candidates and reporting critically on their opponents. 

Underdog candidates appear to be emboldened by the competition. Prior to Mustafa's list, the leading opposition party was the Kurdistan Islamic Union, a moderate Islamic party that has been unable to win over secular voters. 

The union has joined forces with another moderate Islamic party and two secular parties to form an alliance that is advocating a reform-based platform. 

"The level of political awareness among the public is high," Salahaddin Babakir, campaign chief for the Kurdistan Islamic Union, said. "People are expecting change and for things to improve." 

The incumbent Kurdistani List has yet to announce its platform but is highlighting the successes of its leaders and the government in its media. One story featured newly-paved roads and a hospital in Halabja, a Kurdish town in Sulaimaniyah devastated by a chemical attack by Saddam Hussein's regime in 1988. Critics of the ruling parties frequently cite Halabja as an example of the Kurdish government's neglect of its citizens. 

PUK media outlets also report on party meetings where officials promise better services and democratic refor. s. The gatherings are attracting an increasing number of supporters, including Kurdish peshmarga forces and prominent figures such as tribal leaders and artists.


Original source: UNPO - 22 June 2009

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