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Kurdistan Regional Government [KRG] - 2018 Elections

In Iraq’s Kurdistan region, the two dominant parties remain — the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which is affiliated with the Barzani family, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), which is affiliated with the Talabani family. The 1998 , the KDP-PUK agreement helped create a highly corrupt system of cronyism where the two parties divided virtually all of the oil-rich region's resources among themselves while putting their sons, daughters and extended families in senior government positions. Years of stagnant politics, unpaid salaries and corruption have undermined faith in politics and shrunk the turnout in recent elections.

Kurdish parliamentary elections were held 30 September 2018, a year after the semi-autonomous region's failed bid for independence from Iraq. The election saw hundreds of candidates vying for the 111 seats in the regional parliament, including five allocated for Turkmen, five for Christians and one for Armenians. More than 3.1 million people were eligible to vote in the semi-autonomous region. Elections had been scheduled for late 2017, but were deferred in the aftermath of a referendum for independence which was met by a swift backlash from Baghdad.

With opposition parties weak, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) were likely to extend their almost three decades of sharing power. In 1998, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) reached a power-sharing agreement after nearly four years of civil war. Now 20 years later, the KDP was on its way to renege on its obligations and exclude the PUK from the next Kurdistan Regional Government.

The PUK said it would not recognise the results September 2018, alleging fraud in the voting process. Splits within the PUK presented the possibility that KDP would take a dominant position in Kurdish politics, both in the regional capital Erbil and in the difficult formation of a federal government in Baghdad. Observers from two opposition parties said that some people tried to use fake identification to vote but were stopped.

The 111 parliamentary seats were contested by 21 parties, but none was expected to win 51 percent of votes to form a government on its own. Instead, the KDP might choose to forge an alliance with some of the new parties such as Gorran (Change Movement, established by former PUK members) and the New Generation Movement (founded by Shaswar Abdulwahid, a Kurdish "Trump-like" real estate developer).

Barzani said that Kurdish unity had been "destroyed" by what some PUK leaders, including its top commander, Bafel Talabani, did in 2017 when they helped Iraqi forces and Iran-backed Shia militias take the oil-rich city of Kirkuk from the Kurds in the wake of the independence referendum. The PUK, on the other hand, accused the KDP of "monopolising power".

The PUK’s Kurdish peshmergas, just like their leader, revere Kirkuk, Iraq’s oil-rich multilingual and multiethnic city, as the Jerusalem of the Kurds. The PUK reportedly broke a deal with the Iraqi military through Iranian political operators led by Iran’s powerful General Qasem Soleimani. On 16 October 2017 they left the city without any serious resistance against the marching central government forces.

Masoud Barzani, the KRG’s former president and leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), another powerful Kurdish party in Iraq, called the PUK withdrawal a betrayal, reflecting some of the tensions between the Kurdish factions. Barzani’s KDP boycotts elections in Kirkuk and other disputed areas, which the party believes were unlawfully occupied by the Baghdad government.

The main opposition party to the KDP and PUK was the Gorran (Change) Movement and Kurdistan Islamic Group (Komal). The Gorran movement – a splinter group from the PUK – lost some support after their charismatic leader, Nawshirwan Mustafa, unexpectedly died in 2017. New parties have since been formed: the New Generation Movement, led by businessman Shaswar Abdulwahid; and the Coalition for Democracy and Justice (CDJ), led by veteran politician Barham Salih. Both Gorran and the CDJ have split from the PUK and Salih fpreviously served as prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and as a deputy prime minister in the federal government.

Many Kurdish voters who say they are fed up with the long-running dominance of the KRG by the KDP and PUK are pinning their hopes on Salih to improve their lives and end rampant corruption but it remained unclear how much of a change can be brought about by the CDJ leader who was part of the KRG and central government.

In a statement released on 18 October 2017, the Kurdish Independent High Electoral and Referendum Commission (IHERC) said it had decided to suspend the preparations for the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections, due to be held on November 1, due to the recent violence in Kirkuk and other disputed territories. The suspension is due to not receiving “the names of candidates on the scheduled dates and because of the recent development in Kirkuk and the disputed areas,” the IHERC statement said. It said “the suspension will continue until the parliament of Kurdistan region will take a decision about the matter.”

Iraqi Kurdistan's Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani called on 18 December 2017 for parliamentary election to be held in the region, asking the authorities to take necessary steps to organize the process in three months' time. Barzani, who had met various Kurdish leaders, made the decision to ensure the unity of the people of the Kurdistan region.

Within a period of no more than three months, the authorities must assign a date for the election, Barzani said. The opposition groups in Kurdistan wanted an immediate dissolving of the current government, a step totally refuted by the major political parties of Kurdistan Democratic Party and Democratic National Union of Kurdistan.

Iraq's supreme election commission announced 12 May 2018 as the date of the country's general election. The Kurdistan region was eager to hold election before Iraq's election. In 2013, the Kurdistan region witnessed an election in which the Kurdistan Democratic Party won 38 seats in parliament while the Gorran (change) Movement came in second with 24 seats followed by Democratic National Union of Kurdistan and Islamic Dawa Party with 18 seats and 16 seats respectively. There are 110 seats in the Kurdistan regional parliament.

The Barzani-Talabani elite were pushing for presidential and parliamentary elections in 2018 – ideally before Iraqi’s own elections in May – and desperately needed to retrieve a trace of credibility with voters in the country. The big question is how Abadi plays this. If he appeared kind to the Kurds, he will lose votes in the elections, which he is sure to win if he is tough on them. Yet if he is too tough, it might be that the country implodes into chaos and civil war, which might mean he will have to send the Iraqi army in – and then focus Kurds' minds once again on the common enemy, which might blow up in his face.

The Kurdistan Regional Government [KRG] had been in a confrontation with Iraq's central government since Baghdad made cuts to the regional budget in 2014. That situation was made worse by the KRG's staging of an independence referendum on 25 September 2017, in defiance of Baghdad. A great majority of Kurds, 93 percent, endorsed the idea of breaking away from Iraq during the vote.

Masoud Barzani stepped down as president of Iraqi Kurdistan on 01 November 2017, and the government was then led by his nephew, Nechirvan Barzani. New elections were scheduled to be held on November 1, but were pushed back by eight months.

Protesters took to the streets for the second time in as many days across semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan on 19 December 2017 to show their displeasure at austerity in the region. Thousands of people, many of them teachers and civil servants, rallied to voice frustration at years of austerity measures and unpaid salaries. Some protesters clashed with Kurdish security forces and set fire to government buildings, while calling for the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to resign.

Offices of Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) were among those set on fire during the protests. Representatives from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the KDP's coalition partners, reported that several of their offices had also been torched. And there were also reports that a number of buildings belonging to other Kurdish parties were also damaged by arson.

Iraq's divided Kurds braced for a blow on the political front in the country's May 12 elections. Analysts estimated the Kurds' loss of seats in Iraq's parliament could reach double figures as their shrunken geographic footprint is compounded by a bitter feud between the two main political parties in semi-autonomous Kurdistan. The independence referendum for the region held in September saw over 92 percent back secession — but Baghdad was incensed, after long warning that any plebiscite would be "illegal". In response, federal troops in October pushed Kurdish forces out of Kirkuk and its oilfields, along with other disputed areas in Nineveh and Salaheddin provinces in northern Iraq.

For the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the "treachery" of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) made it impossible to cooperate. Alternative parties threatened to further split the Kurdish vote, such as Goran (Kurdish for change) and the newly created New Generation movement. The result: 503 hopefuls on 77 candidate lists, competing for just 46 seats reserved in Iraq's parliament for the provinces of Erbil, Sulaymaniyah and Dohuk, officially constituting the autonomous region.

After past national elections, the support of the Kurdish bloc within the Baghdad parliament has been crucial to the new prime minister receiving a clear majority and fulfilling his mandate to form a government.

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