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 Town voters press local issues

 Source :  Institute for War and Peace Reporting 
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Town voters press local issues  25.7.2009 
By Kamaran Muhammed in Koya, Falah Najim in Halabja and Dilshad Anwar in Kalar

Leading election candidates pledge to address host of diverse problems.

July 25, 2009

Kurdistan region 'Iraq', — Local issues are driving voters in three key Kurdish towns who say they want better jobs, curbs on corruption and more support for Saddam’s victims.

Top Kurdish leaders such as Iraqi president Jalal Talabani have swung through the towns of Halabja, Kalar and Koya on campaign stops, pledging to help residents who complain of government neglect.

Iraqi Kurdistan’s voters go the polls on July 25 to elect 111 members of the Kurdistan Regional Government, KRG, parliament and the region’s president.


In Koya, the hometown of Talabani, the streets are calm but election fever is running high.

The election has been enlivened by the opposition Change list, which is promising to tackle corruption.

On a main street, a red sign states that Talabani, whose Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, PUK, party is running on the incumbent Kurdistani list, “is as dear to us as our eyes".

One hundred metres down the road is a banner encouraging voters to cast their ballots for Change, a breakaway faction of the PUK.

Some campaign posters are torn down or scribbled over.

Voters say they will vote on local issues such jobs and services. The biggest crisis is a severe water shortage – exacerbated by the summer heat and a drought last winter.

Electricity is better in Koya than in many areas of Iraqi Kurdistan, but infrastructure projects are slow to materialize.

Incumbents may face more of a challenge because of municipal issues, even though members of parliament will be addressing regional topics and serving in Iraqi Kurdistan’s capital, Erbil.

At the same time, politics is local enough that some say they want Koya candidates representing their interests.

Halmat Omsan Kakil, 21, graduated from university two months ago and is hunting for a job.

He said he will vote for the Kurdistani list because "many of their candidates are young, and two of them are from his town".

Corruption and nepotism are big concerns for voters here, but it is unclear whether they will swing toward Change. Some PUK critics say they do not trust the opposition list because it includes many former PUK leaders who may have been tainted by corruption.

Koya mayor Kurdo Omar has met with coalitions and parties, asking for calm in campaigning and on election day.

As Koya is Talabani territory, she said, “It must be an example of the rule of law."


Halabja voters say they want to move past the town’s dark history.

A chemical attack by Baathist forces on Halabja killed 5,000 people and injured thousands more in 1988.

Reconstruction and services are among the most important issues.

The KRG has improved some of the town’s infrastructure, including paving a main road, since an anti-government riot in 2006. But many Halabja residents continue to suffer medical problems, services are poor and bombed-out homes stand as stark reminders of the attack.

Party loyalists are visiting voters’ homes, pledging to rebuild Halabja and provide medical care. But residents of this Sulaimaniyah province town say they have heard the promises before without seeing much improvement. A local survey indicated that voter apathy is high.

Islamist parties enjoy more popular support in Halabja, a conservative Sunni town once run by Islamists, than in many of Iraqi Kurdistan’s more secular towns and cities. The PUK and KDP have won over the town’s voters in the past, but Change list is drumming up supporters.

Talabani and Kurdistan region president Massoud Barzani, who is seeking re-election, have both made campaign stops here. Still, incumbents could face an uphill battle.

Mohammed Faraj, 42, lost seven family members in the chemical attack.
He said he will cast his ballot for the Service and Reform list, an alliance of Islamist and leftist parties.

"I will give them a try for the next four years,” he said. “The KDP and PUK have governed badly and they have not fulfilled the promises they gave us in the last election."


Economics is a driving force for Kalar voters. Dry, dusty and underdeveloped, Kalar is home to many victims of the Anfal campaign, during which an estimated 180,000 Kurds were killed or disappeared.

Most of the victims were men from rural areas whose widows and children continue to live in poverty.

Talabani, stumping for his PUK party, visited Kalar in Sulaimaniyah province this month, drawing about 10,000 people at a spirited campaign rally. He gave money to Anfal victims and pledged to establish a university.

The Kurdistani list is also promising to create jobs and raise welfare payments to Anfal families, who receive 300 to 350 US dollars per month regardless of their family size.

Change has said it would make Kalar Iraqi Kurdistan’s fourth province.

Change appears to be the main challenger to the Kurdistani list, and campaign posters and flags of both contenders dominate the city.

Service and Reform is also campaigning quietly in Kalar. Twenty-four contenders, including many small parties, are seeking parliamentary seats in the regional poll.

"This election is unique because many different lists are participating,” said Omar Abdulkareem, a 25-year-old undecided voter.

“They are competing with each other democratically, so a lot more people will participate in the process. The authorities have never faced such opposition from the public and competitors."

Kamaran Muhammed, Falah Najim and Dilshad Anwar are IWPR-trained journalists.

Copyright, respective author or news agency, Institute for War and Peace Reporting | iwpr net


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