Mustafa Turkmani

Kurdistan Minority Quota Seat Explainer

The allocation of minority quota seats in the Kurdistan Region Parliament has become a hot topic of discussion among the ruling parties. There are 11 seats in the 111-member chamber that are allocated to minority communities, with five seats designated to Turkmens, five to Assyrians, and one to Armenians.

Over the past few months, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) have been embroiled in a dispute regarding the allocation of 11 seats. The PUK contends that the KDP is exploiting these seats for their own political gain.

Criticism has intensified that these seats do not genuinely represent the minority groups, with most of them being won by proxy parties with the assistance of the ruling KDP party. The KDP-affiliated security forces have also been accused of tactical voting en masse for minority political parties founded by KDP members or with KDP financial assistance. This led to some highly unlikely results in previous elections where minority candidates in region without significant minority constituencies earned hundreds of votes in early voting (which is reserved for members of the region’s security forces).

While the PUK, Change Movement (Gorran), and opposition parties have expressed concerns about the quota seats in the past, the PUK has now made it a hot topic. They have stated that they will not participate in the election unless the rules are changed.

The KDP has so far shown inflexibility in changing the laws for minority quota seats so that only members of relevant minorities be allowed to vote for them. Reports suggest that the KDP even rejected a UN proposal that would distribute the minority quota seats among provincial constituencies.

However, this proposal has its own issues. Confined to provinces in Sulaymaniyah and Halabja, it could allow the same practices as seen in Erbil and Duhok provinces. Other parties in Kurdistan have historically supported their own proxy parties without being able to replicate the KDP’s success.

Additionally, since the majority of the minority population, particularly Turkmen and Assyrians, reside in areas controlled by the KDP, this proposal may not significantly benefit them.

Quota seats have been seen as an easy way for larger factions to attain seats and have been historically used by the KDP. The only real way to block this practice is to allow only minorities to vote for seats legally designated for them.

One possible solution is to distribute minority quota seats among all political parties, as is done for gender quota seats. This could aid the integration of historically marginalized minority groups that have been used as political tools by Kurdish elites.

However, such a move may not guarantee genuine representation of minority communities as a group. Additionally, minority members are often distrustful of political elites, which may pose a stumbling block for this suggestion. 

This distrust has almost certainly been stoked by the current system, where larger factions have historically supported their own proxy parties, leading to a lack of genuine representation for minority communities.