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 Iraq's Kurdish Parties say protests will fuel votes in Kurdistan

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Iraq's Kurdish Parties say protests will fuel votes in Kurdistan  26.11.2011  

November 26, 2011

SULAIMANIYAH, Kurdistan region 'Iraq', — The Arab Spring and similar protests in Iraqi Kurdistan are expected to influence the region’s upcoming election, party representatives say.

No date has been set for the highly-anticipated provincial election -- which will determine which parties control local politics in the semi-autonomous region -- and no reliable polls have been conducted, but political parties are claiming they’ve gained momentum since last spring, when thousands of people gathered daily in Sulaimaniyah to protest corruption and poor governance.

Mohammed Rahim, a leader in the Change Movement, known in Kurdish as Gorran, said his party’s popularity has grown following the protests which were violently quashed by the authorities. Change is the region’s largest opposition group.

“We have no doubt that the votes of the opposition have increased, especially because the ruling parties haven’t taken any steps to better themselves. They’ve even gotten worse,” Rahim said.

During the protests which stretched from February to April, at least 10 people -- mostly protesters but also police officers -- were killed and dozens more were injured and arrested.

The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) run by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani is in charge of the local administration and security forces in Sulaimaniyah province, the largest of the Kurdistan Region’s three governorates.           

It Reads "Leave", a message to Massoud Barzani. Thousands of Kurds protest against Kurdistan gov't KRG at Sulaimaniyah's Sara "Azady" square for 62 days, The demonstrators opposed Massoud Barzani, and the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party KDP and they demand Barzani to step down from his position as president of Kurdistan. Photo: Karzan Kardozi
Shaho Saeed, Gorran’s spokesman, said his group’s popularity is on the rise. He pledged Change will try to ensure the elections will be free and fair, and that political parties won’t use government resources to support their campaigns.

The Gorran movement holds 25 seats in Kurdistan’s 111-member Parliament.

Islamic parties are also upbeat about their prospects in the provincial elections. Abdul-Sattar Majid, a senior official at the Kurdistan Islamic League, said his party will enter the elections “with high morale.”

Majid said that although his party only gained three seats in Sulaimaniyah in the 2005 provincial elections, they are hoping for at least five seats this time.

Gorran, the Islamic League and the Islamic Union are Kurdistan’s three major opposition parties. They were accused by the government of encouraging the spring protests.

However, Omar Mohammed, the head of the Sulaimaniyah branch of the Kurdistan Islamic Union, described his party’s role in the Sulaimaniyah protests as an “effective participation.”

“We can say the Islamic Union will have more weight in the coming elections,” said Mohammed.

He said his party expects to gain around 20,000 to 25,000 votes.

Some observers believe that the newly-created Change Movement won over some Islamic Union and Islamic League supporters in the 2009 parliamentary elections because the two Islamic parties had not created a strong opposition and had allied with secular parties.

An Islamic League official who spoke to Rudaw on condition of anonymity said that Kurdistan’s Islamic parties will gain popularity just as Islamic groups are becoming influential in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

In an earlier interview with Rudaw, Halo Penjweni, a senior PUK official, said his party lost around 100,000 supporters -- most when the Change Movement was formed -- but is now attracting more voters. Change was born as a breakaway faction of the PUK.

“We believe we can perform better in Sulaimaniyah this time around because the government has done good work here in the past two years,” Penjweni said.

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is currently headed by Prime Minister Barham Salih who is a senior PUK official but power will likely be transferred next years to the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which is believed to be the largest political party in Kurdistan. Parties in Kurdistan do not publicly discuss their membership, making it difficult to quantify.

KDP officials believe the way KRG Massoud Barzani handled the protests and their aftermath has boosted the party’s popularity. Barzani is the head of the KDP and announced widespread reforms after the demonstrations.

KDP officials also argued that the party has gained sympathy after its offices were attacked by protesters. The KDP has also been accused of using violent tactics to suppress protests, including shooting and killing demonstrators.

Since last February till middle April, thousands of protesters gathered daily in Sulaimaniyah and other parts of Kurdistan against corruption and the lording over Kurdistan region by two main parties KDP and PUK. Kurdish protestors demand the ouster of the local Kurdistan government KRG, calling for improving services and living conditions and fighting corruption. 

After 62 days of protests, the Governorate of of Sulaimaniyah has banned unlicensed demonstrations in the city. Heavy Kurdish forces deployed in the Sulaimaniyah city to prevent any demonstrations, and occupied the city center and other parts of Sulaimaniyah. The Security Committee in Sulaimaniyah banned on April 18 all sorts of protests.

Most of the demonstrators opposed Massoud Barzani, and the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party KDP. Ten people were killed and more than 700 others wounded and 220 more have been arrested in clashes between demonstrators and Kurdish security forces during a wave or protests that swept Sulaimaniyah. The Kurdish security forces (Asayish) arrested and tortured a lot of activists and journalists.

The protesters demand the Kurdish government and parliament resign to give way for “early transparent elections”. They complain about “monopolizing the economic and political authority,” by the two major parties of Kurdistan. Many observe allegiance to either of the two ruling patties a must to get employed and hence were deprived of the right. Kurdistan suffers from electric power deficiency but after almost 20 years of semi autonomy.

For decades, the KDP of regional president Massoud Barzani and the PUK of Iraq's President Jalal Talabani have lorded over the region.

Massoud Barzani and his relatives control a large number of commercial enterprises in Kurdistan-Iraq, with a gross value of several billion US dollars. The family is routinely accused of corruption and nepotism by Kurdish media as well as international observers.

Iraq's Kurdish regional government has near total autonomy and is funded by a share of the country's oil revenue. The two parties that share power each command former guerrilla militias that have been given the status of regional security forces.

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