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 Secular alliance blamed for Kurdish Islamists election failure

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Secular alliance blamed for Kurdish Islamists election failure  31.8.2009 
By Yaseen Taha

August 31, 2009

SULAIMANIYAH, Kurdistan region 'Iraq', — The failure of Islamic parties in recent Kurdish elections has provoked a period of soul-searching within the two major regional Islamic parties, the Islamic Union in Kurdistan and the Islamic Group of Kurdistan.

The two parties only won 10 seats between them and analysts and party members alike agree that a recent alliance with secular forces seems to have backfired at a time when a new political force, the Change List, was rising to the fore.
The emergence of Islamic movements, or political Islam, in northern Iraq dates back to the end of the 1970s when the Muslim Brotherhood extended its influence into the region. In 1984 the first armed Islamic movement, the Islamic Relations Movement in Iraq’s Kurdistan, was established in the border area with Iran.

Following the 1991 uprising Islamists participated in the first elections to the Kurdistan Parliament on a united Islamic List. The List only won 7 percent of votes and remained outside parliament as an oppositional force. During the 1990s and early years of this decade the Islamic movement fractured into three groups: the Islamic Union, which declared itself a reform-focused, civil Islamic party; a new Islamic Group; and thirdly, the remnants of the old Islamic Movement.

In Kurdish parliamentary elections held in 2005, the Islamic Union joined the Kurdistan National List, comprising the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), and won nine parliamentary seats. The Union also participated in Iraq’s general elections with an independent list and won five seats. The Islamic Group participated in regional elections with an independent list and won six seats. In national elections it joined the Kurdistan Coalition and won one seat. The Islamic Movement won no seats in either election.

However, for the recent elections the Islamic Union and the Islamic Group came together with two secular parties to form a new bloc, the Services and Reform List. Prior to the election the head of the Islamic Union, Salhuddin Baha’ Eddin, and the Emir of the Islamic Group, Ali Bapir, both anticipated winning 25 to 30 parliamentary seats.

But when election results emerged, the Service and Reform List had only won a total of 13 seats, six of which were won by the Union and four by the Group. Compared to their previous parliamentary positions, the results represented a clear failure.

Initially the two parties blamed the results on fraud and election irregularities, accusing the Kurdistan List of manipulating the result. However, in the end, the List accepted the results as they initially stood.

Accordingly a period of analysis and reflection on the electoral defeat has begun among Islamic thinkers in the region.

Some observers, such as Kamel Mahmoud, an Islamist writer and former editor of a number of Islamic publications, say the loss is easily explained by the union with secular parties which he said disappointed their core Islamic supporters.

The fact that the Islamic Movement, which remained independent, was able to win its first two seats in the Kurdish parliament, has been seen as confirmation of this view.

“The increase in the number of voters who voted for the Islamic Movement is due to the Union and Group’s alliance with secular parties, because people wanted to vote for a pure Islamic list,” said Irfan Ahmad Kaka Mahmoud, a leading Movement official.

However, in response to this criticism, the two parties have been quick to defend their alliance with secular forces, saying in a statement, that “their alliance with the two secular parties is an achievement in itself and an important objective” and calling “upon their members and supporters to back this alliance," saying it represents the best way forward for the region.

In conjunction with the secular alliance, there is a widespread belief that the weakening of the Islamic vote was also caused by the ability of Nawshirwan Mustafa’s Change List to attract Islamic opposition votes by presenting itself as the best vehicle for reform. According to Dindar Najman, a member of the Union’s political bureau, “the emergence of the Change List had a big impact on Islamic voters.”

On this front the political positions taken by the two parties in recent months clearly weakened their standing vis-à-vis the Change List. As one example, the two parties endorsed the recent draft constitution despite widespread political and popular opposition on the basis that it granted too much power to the Regional President. According to Zana Rostay, responsible for the Erbil branch of the Islamic Group, "the ratification of the Constitution was one of the reasons leading to the limited number of votes."

Muhammad al-Hakim, a leading Group official acknowledged to Niqash that many of their members did in fact vote for the Change List. “We have received reports and documents demonstrating that many members of the party in Sulaimaniyah worked for the Change List,” he said.

The loss of voters to the Change List prompted bitter recriminations between the two parties. Mawloud Bawah Murad, a member of the Union’s political bureau, told Niqash that the reason for failure was that “the Group did not fulfil its obligations.”

On the back of these disappointing election results, Islamic parties are now reassessing their plans for the country’s national elections set for January 2010.

Dr. Muhammad Ahmad, a leading member of the Islamic Union told Niqash that “there are many parties who have called us and suggested we ally ourselves with them and join their lists but we haven’t yet decided with whom we want to join forces.”

But one Group official did reject a continued alliance with secular forces, telling Niqash that “at this moment we have no intention of allying ourselves with the Future, the Socialists or the Toilers parties.”

It seems that the two Islamic parties do not want to burn their fingers a second time.

Copyright, respective author or news agency, niqash org  


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