The Ramifications of Latest KRG Voter Fraud Go Beyond the Election

By Michael Rubin:

On September 30, 2018, Iraqi Kurds once again went to the polls to choose a regional parliament. Because citizens and officials lodged more than 1,000 complaints with regard to fraud, the Independent High Elections and Referendum Commission took three weeks to certify the results. Neither the results nor their certification surprised observers. After all, the regional election commission is not, as its name suggests, independent. Rather, it is beholden to party leaders. The regional government itself chose and funded monitors who were neither able to monitor polling stations rigorously or to the professional standards established by non-participating independent monitoring groups such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the National Democratic Institute, or the Carter Center.

While Masoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) can claim victory and the Talabani family’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) will accept its runner-up status so long as it can dominate Sulaymani, the real problem may be more than disenfranchisement of individual voters or the corrosive cynicism that now permeates Kurdish society. Rather, the specific method of much of the fraud will have ramifications far beyond election day.

According to civil society leaders and politicians with whom I spoke during a trip to Iraqi Kurdistan earlier this month, both the KDP and PUK reportedly provided peshmerga and party cadres with multiple voter identification cards in order to inflate their election tally: Each card had fake names but a real photo of the individual to which they were issued and legitimate biometric data for that individual. In many cases, ten fraudulent cards each with a valid chip were issued to single individuals to allow them to vote ten separate times. In one case, a party member in Kuysanjaq bragged that he had received over two hundreds separate cards, each with separate identities but his picture. Such cards helped the KDP and PUK maintain their grip on power but neither party made any effort either to collect or destroy the cards after the election.

Here’s the problem: Because the cards read as valid, they can be used long after election day. Want to cheat investors? Accept notarize contracts with fake identity cards and then disappear with the money. Iraqi Kurdistan already has a poor reputation for corruption, the forced attachment of ghost partners from the ruling parties or their immediate circles to legitimate investors, and a lack of judicial independence to enforce contracts during disputes with politically-connected partners. Add in facilitation of fraud for years to come, and even the most sincere plans to better the business climate of Kurdistan will fail.

Security is also now at risk. The purpose of biometric identification was to provide fool-proof confirmation of Iraqi citizenship as well as to allow security forces to determine who is in good standing as opposed to a wanted criminal. The proliferation of fake identifications creates a vulnerability which would-be criminals and terrorists can exploit for profit or ideology. In short, in their quest both to maintain their iron grasp on power and to maintain the fiction that they have broad democratic legitimacy, party leaders and their sons have abetted a fraud which will continue to hurt the Kurdish economy long after these elections are forgotten and could very easily undermine regional security. This would be truly ironic at a time when the remaining portions of Iraq have witnessed a democratic renaissance. Despite its myriad problems, the government in Baghdad has now changed its leadership four times through elections. And, according to United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq statistics, civilian casualties from terrorism have declined by almost an order of magnitude across Iraq.

Alas, residents of the Kurdistan Regional Government may soon find that the price of cheating, nepotism, and fraud is calculated not only in cash, but may also be measured in blood.

Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute  


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