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Iraqi Kurdistan opposition parties reject election results

Four main opposition groups allege fraud in Iraqi Kurdistan’s parliamentary elections and threaten to boycott the next legislative session.
Kurdistan Regional Government Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani casts his vote at a polling station, during parliamentary elections in the semi-autonomous region in Erbil, Iraq September 30, 2018. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani - RC16F7414BF0

SULAIMANIYAH, Iraq After a three-week delay, election commissioners announced Oct. 21 the final results of the Iraqi Kurdistan region’s parliamentary elections, in which the two major parties won most of the seats and the main opposition parties rejected the results.

A year after the failed independence referendum and its disastrous results, Iraq’s Kurds voted last month in parliamentary elections that witnessed a low turnout and alleged large-scale voter fraud and irregularities by the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).

According to the final results announced by the Independent High Elections and Referendum Commission (IHERC), the ruling KDP came first with 688,070 votes, winning 45 out of 111 seats in the Kurdish assembly, positioning it to lead the next regional government. In the last parliamentary vote, in 2013, the KDP won 38 seats. 

The PUK came in second in this election with 319,219 votes, winning 21 seats; the party had 18 seats in 2013. The Gorran party, also called the Change Movement, is the largest Kurdish opposition group and won 12 seats this time, down sharply from 24 in 2013.

While four of the nine Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) commissioners rejected the results, five commissioners — all affiliated with the KDP and the PUK — rushed to pass the vote’s final results, then held a midnight press conference in Erbil to announce them. The KRG is based in Erbil.

The four objecting commissioners, who are linked to the three main Kurdish opposition parties, issued a statement saying, “The results of the election are not final and complete because they are full of shortcomings."

The dissenting commissioners concluded, "We were against the meeting and consider it illegal. We believe this work is unprofessional. That's why we didn’t vote for it, nor do we approve it. We reject it."

Following the announcement of formal and final results, Nechirvan Barzani, the current KRG prime minister, called on all the political parties to remain patient and unified while Cabinet members are selected to form the new government.

Tension had escalated between the KDP and the PUK since the latter secured the election Oct. 2 of Barham Salih as president of the federal government in Baghdad — a largely ceremonial position reserved for a Kurdish politician. But the parties have both accepted the parliamentary elections results, showing signs of future cooperation in forming the next regional government.

Other parties, however, voiced many complaints.

“The Change Movement completely rejects those results and will take all legal measures” against it, the movement said in an Oct. 21 statement.

New Generation, a new opposition party led by businessman Shaswar Abdulwahid, rejected the results the day after the vote, calling the elections "rigged." Though New Generation got 127,115 votes, securing eight parliament seats, it said it will boycott the next legislative session.

The Kurdistan Islamic Group (KIG), which won seven seats, also said it would take legal action to oppose the results.

“The electoral commission wasn't just in its treatment of the complaints and the voter fraud," and failed to take into consideration the opinions of the four dissenting KRG commissioners, KIG spokesman Rebwar Hamad told Al-Monitor. He also said the party will present all its evidence of voter fraud to the appropriate legal bodies, and the KIG leadership will convene soon to make their final decision on the region’s vote and the political process.

The Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU), the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan and the Reform and Development Movement, which jointly created the Reform List, won five seats. The KIU ran alone in 2013, when it secured 10 seats. 

The KIU political bureau also said in a statement it rejects the election results and will pursue legal recourse.

The Communist Party, as part of the Azadi List, secured one seat. The Coalition for Democracy and Justice, which officially boycotted the election, had looked like it would secure a seat anyway when 85% of the votes were counted, but in the final outcome it lost its seat.

Out of the 11 seats reserved for the KRG minority groups, the Turkmens won five, the Christians five and the Armenians one.

The election commission said it received 1,045 individual complaints of electoral fraud and violations. After an investigation, the commission decided to annul the results of 96 polling stations, voiding around 119,000 votes. 

IHERC secretary Esmael Khormali, who is from the KIU and did not approve of the results, told Al-Monitor there were so many complaints and irregularities that the electoral commission should have analyzed them carefully and resolved them.

“We have asked that wherever there was a complaint against a political side regarding a ballot box, the vote of that political side be canceled — not the votes of all the other political sides, since this is the appropriate and just way,” Khormali said. “But the five commissioners decided to void all political sides' votes … thus the commission’s credibility has come under the question."

The KRG judicial elections board had earlier ruled that results could be approved by a simple majority of 50% plus one, striking down the KRG commission’s regulation that results must be ratified by two-thirds of the commissioners.

Shirwan Zrar, the IHERC’s official spokesman and one of the four commissioners who rejected the results, told Al-Monitor the political parties have three days, until Oct. 24, to raise complaints with the KRG Court of Cassation about the announced results.

The Kurdistan region, which is already on edge because of disputes about democracy, and billions of dollars in foreign debts, may be dragged into further political, social and economic turmoil now that the opposition parties have rejected the vote results. The parties publicly say they might not be able to control the outrage of people who — frustrated by electoral corruption, high unemployment and poor services — could rebel against the ruling parties in the future. 

“The Kurdistan region is likely to see increased economic growth. If several opposition parties continue to reject the results of the elections, this could fuel near-term instability," Seth J. Frantzman, executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis, told Al-Monitor.

He continued, “A stable Kurdistan is foremost in the interest of the Kurdistan region, Baghdad and the neighboring states of Turkey and Iran, as well as Western governments such as the US. Although there are disputes regarding influence in the Kurdistan region, overall, after the defeat of [the Islamic State], the region needs stability so Iraq can move forward into a new era of security.”

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