Iraqi Kurdistan´s election held under undemocratic circumstances

Shakhawan Shorash

By Shakhawan Shorash:

The uprising of the Kurdish people against Saddam Hussein’s regime in spring 1991, followed by the mass fleeing of Kurds, United Nations (UN) Security Council resolution 688, and the establishment of the safe enclave north of the 36 parallel pushed the Iraqi regime away from the main part of Iraqi Kurdistan. The subsequent political developments made it possible for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) party of Jalal Talabani and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) of Masoud Barzani and other political parties to have control over the Kurdish cities and recruit members and strengthen themselves. Not long after these events, the KDP and the PUK prepared for another internal Kurdish war based on old enmities and hatred.

The first Kurdish election in 1992 was held under the power of the militia forces of the political parties and in chaotic circumstances with high rates of election abuse. The fifty–fifty agreement that was afterward negotiated between the KDP and the PUK could not be maintained due to mistrust, corruption, and the struggle for power. As a consequence, internal war was a reality until 1998. Iraqi Kurdistan has been divided between the KDP and the PUK since 1994. Both the KDP and the PUK controlled parts of the Iraqi Kurdistan by force and established two undemocratic administrations in the cities of Slemani (Sulaymaniya) and Hawler (Erbil). The Washington Agreement mediated by the United States in 1998 as a part of its attempts to unify the Iraqi opposition against Saddam Hussein made it possible for the PUK and the PDK to normalize their relations gradually.

After the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, there was a real chance for the democratization of the Kurdish political system as the basis of the state building of post-Saddam Iraq. The Kurds could have taken advantage of the opportunity and begun the democratization process in the semi-independent Kurdish region. They could have removed the hegemony of the families and disarmed the militia forces, and they could have removed the family control over the national income and resources, and then they could have reunited the Kurdish administration and created democratic institutions.

On the contrary, the KDP and the PUK regarded themselves as the most democratic rulers in Iraq and the Middle East and suggested their administration as a model for Iraq. Thus they leaped over the democratization process by claiming that they had gone through the process before and now the other regions of Iraq could use their model as an inspiration during the transitional period. In fact, Kurdistan had never gone through the democratization process and therefore the rule of families and militia forces continued as before.

As was the case before 2003, the extended families, as well as the respective political parties of both Barzani and Talabani, maintain control over the Kurdish community, as a range of military and special forces with different names belong to them. In addition, they own the main media channels and have control over the universities, the Kurdistan market, the national resources and national income. They can employ or fire people, they can give people salaries without jobs under false names, they can seize state properties, and they can give people houses and property. Thus they have conditionally made most of the Kurdish families their own clients or “slaves of the party´s money and rewards.” Corruption is widespread and, not surprisingly, the ruling family and some of the political leaders are rolling in money.

The election in 2009 was controlled by the ruling political parties, especially in the areas controlled by the KDP and the Barzani family (yellow area). The new political organization, the change movement Gorran, won around 25 parliament seats due to the weakness of the PUK in the Slemani region because many of the members moved from the PUK to the Gorran movement (Gorran was formed by defectors from the PUK in 2006). However, Gorran could not harm the Barzani family and the KDP in the yellow area, in particular due to Gorran´s weakness in the Hawler and Bahdinan regions and the election abuses of the KDP and its despotic control over the community.

The new circumstances of the recent election appeared to mirror the conditions of the election in 2009, but the PUK was weaker than before, especially because of increasing dissatisfaction against the party in the green area (the territory under the PUK´s control), the absence of Talabani from the political scene because of illness, and the PUK’s support for the imposed extension of the presidential period of Masoud Barzani. During the election campaign, both political parties distributed a huge amount of money in the form of bribery and during the voting they used various types of election abuse.

The election abuses in Iraqi Kurdistan can be described under the following categories:

  1. Long-term abuses that happen due to the abuse of power and corruption before the election. Long-term abuses include all sorts of bribery and threats that force people to vote for the dominant political parties. For instance: making people clients of the parties by giving them salaries or employing them without jobs, employing people for support, putting people under constant threat if they do not support the ruling political party, creating false political groups, creating false election forms, bribing small political parties, giving salaries and bribes to clan leaders, and so on.
  2. Short-term abuses during the election campaign and the process of voting, which means all the types of abuse that take place during the campaign and on the voting day. Though the list of these abuses is also long, here are a few examples: corrupt or partial commission members, repeated voting by the same individuals, preventing people from voting, faking election forms, controlling voting sites by force and changing the votes, using the names of deceased people, pushing people to vote for a specific candidate, and so on.

According to the opposition and people from Kurdistan, both dominant political parties, especially the KDP, practiced these and other forms of abuses. Furthermore, the election commission and the very mechanisms of observation are under criticism of partiality. For instance, a citizen from the village of Kore said: “The election commission was under KDP member’s control; when the election was over, they stayed to midnight and did what they wished with the votes. Our votes were disappeared.”

There are similarities between the election of Zimbabwe and Iraqi Kurdistan; in both places the dominant leader, his family, and the political party have ensured their political power by long-term and short-term exploitations and abuse of power.

The KDP has retained its status in the yellow zone, but the PUK lost its status in the green zone. The general result of the election is as follows: the KDP 38 seats, Gorran 24 seats, the PUK 18 seats, the 3 Islamist parties 17 seats, others 3 seats. The minorities of Assyrians, Turkmen, and Armenians have 11 seats in the parliament. Concerning the minorities, the KDP is under accusation of creating false lists and the KDP´s members voted according to those lists.

By spending huge amounts of money and the method of abuses, the KDP got the votes for 38 seats, enabling the party to retain its position as the main political party. Many more PUK members and voters voted for Gorran – making Gorran stronger and bigger than before in the green zone. The PUK is experiencing a nightmare due to the loss, while the Islamists have lost some of their support. The change has occurred in the green zone, but there has not been much change in the KDP´s yellow zone.

In many voting places, people were able to come and vote without problems. Nevertheless, this result can hardly give the real picture of the people´s political interest due to the effects of the long- and short-term abuses.  A significant part of the people does not have the freedom to choose the candidates they might prefer. What could happen if the people were not bound to the ruling political party´s money and were not afraid of anyone if they chose freely? What might happen if the KDP and the PUK were political parties without militias and a national income?

However, the result of the new election does bring openings for a couple of options. The first option is the maintenance of the status quo, with the KDP and a weakened PUK continuing the former practice of sharing the power. The KDP would go to great lengths to guarantee the continuation of their earlier political agreement, as the KDP has much at risk. The KDP has almost all the minority seats in its pocket and some other small political parties. Thus this option is very possible.

The second option is the creation of a wide coalition government that would maintain the dominance of the Barzani family and the KDP, and this would destroy the weak opposition that exists today. A possibility for this option also exists as the KDP is supportive of it.

The third option is that Gorran and the PUK, with help from the Islamists and other political parties, create a government without the KDP. There is not much hope for the realization of this option. The KDP might think twice about splitting the region as was the situation before 2003, as they are hardly likely to give up their political and oil contracts with Turkey and other external actors. The PUK leaders would also hardly give up their own political and economic contracts with regional states. Likewise, the minorities and small political parties would hardly risk their security and status.

However, there is great doubt that the new result and the change within the green zone will bring any dramatic change of the political system in Iraqi Kurdistan. Neither the KDP nor the PUK got their power and dominance due to democratic means before; on the contrary, they have dominated by force and compulsion. Both the KDP and the PUK maintain militia forces and can continue their dominance without parliamentary support. As a matter of fact, the Kurdish parliament has always been weak without any significant power as regards the key issues. Not surprisingly, none of the powerful leaders wish or dream of being a member of the parliament and discussing important decisions there.

In brief, there has not been a democratization process in Iraqi Kurdistan, and thus the basic fundamentals of democracy are still missing. The Kurdish parliament is weak and the result of the recent election can hardly be expected to bring any significant change to the political system. The system of the family rule and party militias is still dominant. Kurds have to prepare for some more years under the undemocratic rule of the KDP and the PUK.

Shakhawan Shorash was born in Hawler in Southern Kurdistan. He is a freelance writer with a BA in political science from Southern University of Denmark (Odense) and a Masters degree in political science from the University of Copenhagen.

Copyright © 2013

There are no comments yet. Be the first and leave a response!

Leave a Reply

Wanting to leave an <em>phasis on your comment?

Trackback URL