Seats in a legislature - Kurdistan election
Michal Matlon

Kurdistan Election: Quota seat disputes risk delay

Officials from the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) have been locked in a dispute for months over the allocation of 11 seats in the Kurdish House of Representatives, reserved for minorities under a quota system. The PUK has accused the KDP of exploiting these seats for their own political benefit. The impasse risks further delays to the election due last year.

The KDP has vehemently denied these allegations, rejecting proposals put forth by the PUK and other smaller political parties that call for the distribution of the nearly dozen seats among the four provinces according to their size. The KDP contends that only the minority groups should have the authority to determine the mechanism for seat distribution, not other parties.

This ongoing disagreement has become a significant point of contention between the ruling parties, creating a deadlock that has stalled the parliamentary elections. 

Despite November 18 being set as the date for the long-delayed elections, no concrete steps have been taken yet, making it increasingly doubtful that the Kurdistan parliamentary election will take place this year.

The Kurdistan Parliament comprises 111 seats, with 11 designated for minority representation. Turkmens hold five seats, Assyrians, Chaldeans, and Syriacs share five, while Armenians have one.

In recent days, the KDP and PUK have engaged in a heated exchange of accusations. Peshawa Hawramani, the spokesperson for the KDP parliamentary bloc, and Luqman Wardi, a PUK lawmaker, have been steadfast in dismissing each other’s claims.

“We are nearing an impasse with our partners, including the PUK and other political parties, regarding holding a parliamentary session to address amending the electoral law and reactivating the elections commission of the Kurdistan Region,” Hawramani told reporters on Tuesday. He added that his party has “compromised” on many of its demands to ensure elections take place this year.

Over the past year, Hawramani noted that they have presented 18 points during meetings with the PUK as potential solutions to break the stalemate, but all were rejected.

“As a result, the primary reason for the stalled electoral process is the PUK,” Hawramani asserted, adding, “Every initiative we propose is met with resistance.”

Hawramani emphasized that neither the PUK nor the KDP has the right to determine the distribution of quota seats for minorities. “Minorities must be allowed to decide for themselves the mechanism they prefer for the allocation of their seats,” he said.

Less than 24 hours later and at the same location, PUK’s Wardi held a press conference to refute all the claims made by Hawramani.

Wardi characterized the current electoral law as “riddled with flaws” and added that they have previously approached the KDP to amend the law, only to be met with “consistent refusal from the KDP.”

The PUK lawmaker stated that the KDP has threatened on multiple occasions to leverage their parliamentary majority and the 11 minority quota seats to block any attempts to revise the existing electoral law.

As the largest bloc in parliament, the KDP holds 45 seats, more than double that of any of its competitors. Although the KDP is just 11 seats short of a simple majority, it enjoys the support of the 11 minority seats. The PUK has 21 seats, Gorran 12 seats, with the remaining seats divided among other political parties and blocs.

Criticism, however, is not limited to the PUK; other political parties also argue that these seats do not genuinely represent minority groups, as most of them are won by proxy parties with the aid of the ruling KDP party.

KDP-affiliated security forces have also been accused of engaging in tactical voting en masse for minority political parties either founded by KDP members or financially supported by the KDP. This led to some improbable outcomes in previous elections, where minority candidates in regions without substantial minority constituencies garnered hundreds of votes during early voting (which is reserved for members of the region’s security forces).

Farid Yaqub Eliya, a member of the Kurdistan Region Parliament on the Assyrian Al-Rafidain list, criticized efforts to “disperse” votes and “divide” minorities.

“Our stance has been clear since day one: we will never accept multiple electoral constituencies for the minorities. There must be one single electoral constituency for the minorities,” Eliya told NRT English in a phone call.

To resolve the ongoing crisis and move forward with elections, Eliya suggested amending the electoral law.

“In 1992, the electoral law was designed so that only our own people were allowed to vote for our candidates, but in 2005, it was changed to allow everyone to vote for us. The only way to resolve this is to follow the law that was in place in 1992,” Eliya proposed.

Muhammed Elkhani, a member of the Turkmen Development Party, echoed the sentiment that minorities should have one single electoral constituency and rejected claims that they work in favor of the KDP in parliament.

“In any system or democracy, minorities tend to side with the power and authorities, which is also the case for us in the Kurdistan Region. We cannot act as opposition. We do not work for any political party but rather coordinate with those who have formed the KRG government,” Elkhani told NRT English.

Aydin Maruf Salim, a prominent Turkmen political figure and former lawmaker in the Kurdistan Region, told NRT English that they are not “party to the existing political impasse” between the KDP and PUK concerning the mechanisms they want to follow for the parliamentary elections.

“Our MPs represent ourselves in parliament. We are part of the ruling political system in both the parliament and government, and a moral responsibility lies on our shoulders to support the government,” Salim said.

“We have maintained good relations with those parties that have formed the government, including the PUK and the Change Movement,” Salim added.

Regarding their preferred approach to the elections in Kurdistan, the former MP said they all advocate for “one single constituency.”

One single constituency implies that anyone from any part of the Kurdistan Region could vote for any candidates from the minority groups who run for elections. The majority of members of the minority groups reside in Erbil province. One concern is that candidates representing minority groups in other parts of the Kurdistan Region could be elected to parliament with a significantly lower number of votes.