Seats in a legislature - Kurdistan election
Michal Matlon

Uncertainty Looms Over Kurdistan Parliamentary Elections

The delayed parliamentary elections in the Kurdistan Region is shrouded in uncertainty due to disputes over electoral law and the activation of the electoral commission.

Originally postponed by a year, the election is now set for November 18, as announced by Kurdistan President Nechirvan Barzani. However, the tense political climate has fueled suspicion and skepticism.

All political parties assert their readiness for elections within the specified timeframe, but the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and other major parties (excluding the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP)) demand changes to the electoral law and verification of the voters’ register as prerequisites for holding the elections. They seek a political agreement before proceeding with parliamentary discussions.

Sherwan Zirar, spokesperson for the Independent High Electoral Commission in the Kurdistan Region, noted that practical arrangements for this year’s election process require a six-month timeframe, contingent on political parties reaching an agreement on activating the commission.

Rizgar Haji Hama, a member of PUK’s Political Bureau and Head of PUK’s Election Office, told NRT English that the PUK requested multi-constituency elections with set numbers of MPs for each province.

Currently, the entire Kurdistan Region acts as a single 100-seat constituency, with a further 11 seats for minorities also contested regionwide.

Other Kurdish parties, including the Change Movement (Gorran), the New Generations Movement, the Kurdistan Justice Party, and the Kurdistan Islamic Union, also support the switch to multi-constituency elections.

“The KDP is obstructing the process by insisting on single-constituency elections, which allows more opportunities for fraud,” Haji Hama added.

“The PUK insists on conducting Kurdistan’s parliamentary elections on time but with amendments to the electoral law and clearing the voters’ register, we want to ensure each province receives its fair share of seats.”

Haji Hama highlighted that, based on population data from the voters’ register, Sulaymaniyah should hold 40 parliamentary seats, while Erbil and Duhok should have 39 and 27 seats, respectively.

However, the discrepancy in seat allocation during the 2018 election, where Erbil secured 44 seats, Duhok received 30, and Sulaymaniyah was allocated only 37 seats, can be attributed to several factors: The KDP’s robust ground game and extensive patronage network mobilized voters in Duhok and Erbil; voter apathy in Sulaymaniyah, as the main opposition movement, Gorran, became part of the ruling establishment; and a general sense of hopelessness that discouraged voters who were unwilling to support either the PUK or KDP but lacked a viable alternative. There were also credible accusations of electoral fraud.

This lack of options led to lower voter turnout, enabling the two ruling parties to gain seats despite losing votes overall.

The PUK is also demanding the use of the Iraqi biometric voter registry, known for its enhanced accuracy and integrity. He noted that in Sulaymaniyah alone, over 40,000 voters registered in the Iraqi registry are not included in the Kurdistan Region’s registry.

The allocation of minority quota seats in Kurdistan has sparked intense debate among the ruling parties. Within the 111-member chamber, 11 seats are designated for minority communities: five for Turkmens, five for Assyrians, and one for Armenians.

The PUK, along with other parties except the KDP, claim that these seats do not genuinely represent minority groups, as most are won by proxy parties with the support of the ruling KDP. They are also the subject of blatant tactical voting drives among KDP-aligned security forces. Anyone is able to vote for candidates on minority lists.

“We accept the UN proposal regarding the distribution of minorities’ seats among the provinces, so they represent their communities and not a specific party,” Haji Hama said, alluding to the KDP.

On Monday, the KDP parliamentary bloc in Kurdistan’s parliament issued a statement urging the chamber’s presidency to convene a session to renew the electoral commission’s mandate and amend the existing electoral law by May 18, ensuring overdue elections could be held on time.

The KDP bloc accuses the parliament speaker (controlled by the PUK) of creating obstacles to the sessions, thereby preventing the elections from being held on time.

Peshawa Hawramani, spokesperson for the KDP faction in the Kurdistan Parliament, stated in a news conference today: “We have compromised on most of our demands just to hold the elections on time, but the PUK, through Rewaz Fayaq, the speaker of the Parliament, does not allow parliamentary sessions to be held.”

According to internal regulations, only the speaker has the authority to summon members for a session, which means that no other political party, such as the KDP, can undertake this action independently.

“In order to hold elections, we agreed to their proposal to reactivate the electoral commission and amend the electoral law together in the parliament,” Hawramani said.

“The central issue at hand concerns the quota seats that the PUK aims to use to enforce its agenda and exert control over minority populations. They seek to dictate decisions on behalf of minorities by assigning four quota seats specifically for Sulaymaniyah.

“In contrast, our stance is that minorities should have the autonomy to determine their own representation through a unified constituency approach when addressing quota seats,” he said.

Ali Hussein, the head of the KDP’s Organization Bureau in Sulaymaniyah and Halabja provinces, stated that his party will make every effort to hold the elections scheduled for this year.

He mentioned that a special committee is working to resolve the ongoing issues between the KDP and the PUK.

On Monday, the PUK and Gorran also discussed preparations for the Kurdistan parliamentary elections and the current state of negotiations, emphasizing the importance of reaching an agreement as soon as possible to avoid further delays.

In a joint statement, the two Sulaymaniyah-based parties stressed “the importance of reaching an agreement as soon as possible to avoid further delays.”

Ziyad Jabbar, head of the PUK bloc in Kurdistan Parliament, told NRT English that “one of the points the current KRG cabinet had agreed upon was to first politically agree on amending the electoral law and reactivating the electoral commission and then passing it in parliament, but the KDP violated this and didn’t follow through.”

“If we proceed with the elections using the existing law, it would be preferable not to conduct them at all, as they would not guarantee a fair electoral process. We wait for a KDP move or initiative to solve these problems mentioned,” he said.

Regarding the KDP parliamentary bloc’s memo to the chamber’s presidency to convene a session, Jabbar said that “KDP only wants to reactivate the electoral commission and keep the existing law, while we ask to do both in parallel.

As for the KDP’s allegations that the PUK intends to delay the process due to internal matters and conflicts, Jabar refuted these claims, urging the KDP to revise the electoral law for this election, and then “let our internal matters lead us towards failure.”

“Our problem is with the KDP, not our internal issues,” he said.

The PUK is indeed facing internal and external challenges and disputes that set it apart from other parties, yet the KDP still wants the elections to be held on its terms.

The main internal factor has been the ousting of co-leader Lahur Talabany.

Bakhtyar Shaways, a trusted associate of Lahur Talabany and a former PUK MP in Baghdad, informed NRT English that if the issues within the PUK remain unresolved, Talabany “will not remain silent and will consider all available options.”

When asked whether creating an independent electoral list is among the options if no reconciliation occurs, he emphasized “I said all options.”

Shaways, who has accompanied Lahur Talabany on almost all his visits and meetings recently, claimed that “it’s obvious we don’t have an army, but we have the majority of PUK supporters on our side.

“We are sure if no reconciliation happens within the PUK, the party will lose most of its seats.”