Election Fever in the Kurdistan Region

Aras Ahmed

By Aras Ahmed Mhamad:

August 28th marked the first day of the election campaign in South Kurdistan for 111 parliament seats, which will continue until 48 hours before the election on September 21st. There are 2,803,000 eligible voters in all the three cities of Hawler, Slemani, and Duhok. Additionally, the provincial election is to be held on November 21st, 2013.

In the very first moments of the campaign, in the middle of night, there was a huge rush of the members of the political parties to the streets and public places. Activated by the election fever, they stuck placards and posters of their candidates on the walls of mosques, schools, hospitals, courts, Park gates, and columns across streets that transport electricity, though the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) warned them beforehand against any violation that could lead to the disqualification of a candidate. There is no specific place for the candidates to propagate and that sort of campaigning has become a cultural disease involving all the political parties, be it liberalist, religious, nationalist, or secularist. I wonder why the 2005 and 2009 campaigns have not prepared these parties and the (IHEC) to equip themselves with the tools and skills needed for a clean and democratic campaign!

This campaign is assumed to be the most rigorous in the history of South Kurdistan for several reasons. First, the political balance is expected to be changed dramatically. Second, the opposition parties which are the Movement for Change (MC), the Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU), and the Kurdistan Islamic Group (KIG) are getting stronger according to several unofficial statistics. Third, the ruling parties which are the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) decided to participate on two separate lists. Fourth, Jalal Talabani is absent from the scene and the KDP have postponed their campaign for one week to the 2nd of September. Fifth, the social media including Facebook and Twitter hugely add to the level of escalation of the election fever.

In the 2009, third parliamentary election, the KDP and PUK won 59 seats; MC won 25, and the two religious parties, KIU and KIG, won 10. MC, KIU and KIG have been on the opposition front for four years and claim that they will change the political equation in this election. The opposition parties, throughout these four years and more precisely this past year, have been focusing critically on four aspects. First, the domination and exploitation of almost all the governmental posts by the ruling parties. Second, residential issues. Third, oil crisis and the Ministry of Natural Resources unknown income and profits. One very crucial influence is the absence of Talabani. Will PUK members remain loyal?  “Although Talabani’s absence can have a visible impact on the internal decision-making and policy direction of PUK as well as top level rivalries among top PUK officials; nevertheless, people’s loyalty to this party will cast their vote in favor of PUK candidates whether Talabani is present or not”, explained Dlshad Rasul, an MA student in Conflicts Study at the University of Wolverhampton.

This year’s campaign preparation has many diverse dimensions in comparison with the 2005 and 2009 campaigns. One of the most apparent differences is that the candidates are campaigning online and have prepared a huge budget for this. This is a whole new approach in Kurdish society. “Online campaigns were bound to happen. Facebook has very loyal users in Kurdistan, and the candidates would surely want to tap into that. They must have figured out that what has made A7ol popular in Kurdistan should definitely work for them as well. What I find surprising, however, is that election campaigns are one of the very few things that proceed as scheduled in Kurdistan”, explained Meer Ako Ali, a Kurdish journalist.

The traditional methods of campaigning have not changed and have become a cultural habit. Door-to-door and house-to-house campaigning is still observed but it is for sure not as common as in the 2009 campaign. “Door to door method has the benefit of addressing the household members of the families visited in person, especially the elderly and inhabitants of villages and areas not connected to the web. Their concerns and demands could be heard first hand; nevertheless, this method is time consuming and needs lots of energy. On the other hand, online campaign, while addresses mainly the web users has the advantage of communicating the campaign massage more efficiently and faster. Meanwhile, it is not as time consuming as the door to door campaign”, said Dlshad.

Equal work opportunity, social justice and security, economic stability, protection of co-existence and democracy, fixed and lower oil prices, human rights enhancement, more service and better facilities, rule of law and fight corruption are among the many slogans and promises that the candidates are throwing into the face of the public through their party media. “Peoples’ turnout proves to be higher in elections when there is a cause that concerns their lives at the basic levels (for example their existence as an ethnic or religious group) and this is why elections on the federal level (Iraqi elections) is expected to witness more eagerness among the voters, in terms of recognizing the vitality of their vote, rather than on the local levels (KRG elections)”, explained Jalal Hasan Mistaffa, a PhD candidate in Politics at Newcastle University.

What has intensified the campaign is the fact that none of these parties run on a coalition list, i.e., no two political parties can form the cabinet unlike the previous three parliamentarian elections.  “My personal prediction for the turnout in this local election is that it may differ from one political party to another. PUK sees this election as the only way to regaining its ‘glorious past’ as an influential component in Kurdish politics; KIU and KIG want to address the obvious failure in the last elections when they were in the Reform List; Gorran Movement would like to re-celebrate occupying about one fourth of the Kurdistan Parliament and bury the mentioned hope of PUK; and KDP has all its might in this election to remain the number one power. Briefly, all parties have reasons to actively engage in this coming election and thus a higher turnout”, added Jalal.

All the political parties, in a nutshell, encourage their members, sympathizers, and people to try to preserve the democratic principles and consider the wellbeing of the population. But that has not stopped, for example, the unemployed students who have graduated this year and some years before from expressing their frustrations. On the first day of the election, there was a demonstration of the unemployed in Zarayan town and protestors have blocked the way that links Slemani to Darbandikhan for three hours. That has escalated the tension in the neighborhood and other demonstrations are expected to be held in other cities and towns. In fact, the demonstration turned into a rally in the second and third days of the campaign and the demonstrators are adamant to carry on until they are shown some tangible actions.

The success of the campaign and the election is the success of democracy, regardless who wins the majority of the votes.  The previous candidates failed to implement, arguably, half of their promises. But will they be able to convert their promises into concrete realities this time? The two aforementioned campaigns and the successive cabinets have proved the opposite, unfortunately.

Copyright © 2013 Kurdistantribune.com

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