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Iraq: Early voting begins in key Kurdish elections

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By YAHYA BARZANJI, Associated Press Writer Yahya Barzanji, Associated Press Writer – 2 hrs 18 mins ago

SULAIMANIYAH, Iraq – Soldiers and the sick cast early votes Thursday ahead of weekend elections that will determine the leadership of Iraq's Kurdish region, which is locked in an increasingly bitter dispute with the central government over oil-rich land.
A coalition of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party, two parties that have dominated the self-ruled region for decades, faces a challenge from new opposition alliances that seek to capitalize on complaints about authoritarian conduct and alleged corruption.
About 2.5 million eligible voters in the region's three northern provinces — Irbil, Dahuk and Sulaimaniyah — will on Saturday elect their 111-seat parliament and next president. Prison inmates, sick people in hospitals and members of the Kurdish security forces known as "peshmerga" were among those allowed to vote early.
"I have the right to vote, to feel no different from anyone outside the prison," said Nisreen Muhammad, an inmate who voted in a Sulaimaniyah prison. "We all have the same right."
Some Kurds voted in polling stations in cities outside their region. At a voting center in Baghdad, one Kurdish military official joyfully waved a finger stained with the purple ink used to mark ballot papers.
The Kurds had hoped to simultaneously hold on Saturday a referendum on a proposed constitution, but national authorities scuttled that plan. The draft constitution lays claim to disputed areas outside the three Kurdish provinces, and Iraqi Arabs view it as an effort to expand Kurdish authority.
Tension between Kurds and Arabs, particularly around the oil-rich northern region of Kirkuk, is considered a major threat to Iraqi stability despite big security gains after years of war.
In Washington on Wednesday, President Barack Obama pressed Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to be more flexible about sharing power and allowing provincial governments a greater role in decision-making. Al-Maliki, who has been accused of trying to gain political capital by playing up sectarian divisions, said his Shiite-led government would work hard to unite Iraq.
Iraq's parliament has not yet produced a law outlining how Iraq's oil wealth should be divided among the country's religious and ethnic groups, and Kurds seek to sign oil deals with foreign companies without approval from Baghdad.
Much of the campaign rhetoric in the Kurdish region has highlighted Kurdish nationalism, a theme with strong emotional appeal. Still, Kurdish leaders say they are committed to working within a unified Iraq, and recognize that any push for independence could alienate neighboring Iran, Syria and Turkey, which worry about their own Kurdish minorities.
Campaigning ended on Wednesday with a vehicle procession by thousands of supporters of regional President Massoud Barzani of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, who is favored to win another term, and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.
However, Nosherwan Mustafa, a former top official in Talabani's party, has emerged as a popular reformist candidate with a group called "Change." Thousands of his supporters held a rally near his headquarters on the last day of campaigning.
The election features a proportional representation system in which voters select a party's list of candidates for parliament rather than individuals. Eleven seats are allotted to minorities, including five Turkmen, five Christians and one Armenian.
The Kurds separated from the rest of Iraq after rising up against Saddam in 1991, aided by a U.S.-British no-fly zone that helped keep the dictator's armed forces at bay.
Associated Press writer Hamid Ahmed in Baghdad contributed to this report


By The Associated Press SULAIMANIYAH, Iraq - Early voting is underway in the Kurd-run region of northern Iraq ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections there on Saturday.

Police, soldiers, prison inmates and sick people in hospitals are among those allowed to cast their votes Thursday for the 111-member Kurdish parliament in three provinces run by Kurds.

A coalition of two parties that have long controlled the relatively secure region face a challenge from new opposition alliances that seek to capitalize on complaints about corruption.

The Kurds had hoped to hold a referendum on a proposed constitution laying claim to several areas outside their region on the same day as the elections, but the national election commission stopped that plan.



Iraq's Kurds set for vote amid tensions with Baghdad

by Abdel Hamid Zebari Abdel Hamid Zebari 47 mins ago

ARBIL, Iraq (AFP) – Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region goes to the polls on Saturday to elect a president and a parliament amid a simmering land dispute with Baghdad and rising tensions over oil exports that could lead to armed conflict.
Incumbent president Massud Barzani is widely expected to be returned to office while his Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) are likely to sweep the legislative poll, in which more than 2.5 million Kurds are eligible to vote.
The two parties, which have dominated the region's politics for decades, have presented a joint list, mostly of new candidates in a bid to present an image of renewal, but face a number of challengers seeking to break their stranglehold.
More than 100,000 Kurdish members of Iraq's armed forces were voting on Thursday, along with police, prisoners and the sick, ahead of election day.
"I'm very happy to be exercising my democratic right," said soldier Hadi Sultan, 33, as he cast his ballot at a polling station in the capital, Baghdad.
Saturday's main vote is being held six months after the rest of Iraq held provincial elections and as the US military is planning its pullout from the country in 2011.
In the election run-up, tensions between Barzani and the central government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki heightened over Kurdish claims to 16 disputed areas including oil-rich Kirkuk and parts of three other historically Kurdish-populated provinces -- Diyala, Nineveh and Salaheddin.
During the US-led invasion of 2003, Kurdish peshmerga rebels who had fought the regime of ousted dictator Saddam Hussein occupied many of the disputed areas.
The former rebels are now deployed alongside soldiers of Iraq's national army, triggering a tense face-off that has raised the prospect of armed conflict.
Barzani insisted on Sunday he will not "compromise" on the long-standing claims to Kirkuk and repeated his demand that the issue be settled by a referendum called for under the Iraqi constitution, despite opposition from Arab and Turkmen communities.
"The next government will have major challenges to face," said former Kurdish culture minister Sammy Shourash.
"The most pressing of those is resolution of the territorial and constitutional conflict with the central government in Baghdad."
Dyandar Zebari, who coordinates the Kurdish government's relations with the United Nations, said the next administration will also have to reach a deal with Baghdad to share energy resources from northern Iraq's many oilfields.
On June 1, the Kurdish administration began exporting oil for the first time, but Baghdad is contesting the region's right to sign contracts without central government approval.
Disagreements over oil rights have hamstrung exploitation of much of Iraq's massive proven reserves and long-delayed hydrocarbons law, prompting fierce Kurdish criticism.
Kurds are also increasingly concerned about corruption, with many voicing support for change after decades of PUK and KDP dominance.
"It is very important that changes occur in Kurdistan," said Mustafa Khalil, a 34-year-old Arbil shopkeeper. "Government institutions must be reformed to eliminate administrative and financial corruption."
Street vendor Karwan Ahmed, 27, added: "All the electoral programmes are similar, and contain the same old promises."
"We need an opposition that can put pressure on the government until it provides better services for its citizens."
Independent candidates like Nusherwan Mustafa, a wealthy entrepreneur and former PUK deputy leader, are working to break the PUK-KDP dominance.
"We think that Kurdish society, after a political stabilisation, now needs economic, social and cultural reforms," said Mustafa, head of the Change List.
"We are a political force with real popular support. We did not buy the people's loyalty by distributing money."
Five candidates have registered for the presidential race, including Barzani, while 24 political lists will contest the 111 seats in the assembly which first sat in 1992.
It is the first time the regional president will be elected by popular vote.
In 2005, Barzani was elected by parliament in Iraqi Kurdistan, which covers the provinces of Arbil, Dohuk and Sulaimaniyah and has its own flag, national anthem and national day.


Found at: http://www.pww.org/article/articleprint/16515/

Big turnout expected in hotly contested Iraqi Kurdistan vote

Author: Susan Webb

Special elections that began Thursday morning in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region are considered the hottest since the first Kurdish parliamentary elections in 1992.

The elections are significant for all of Iraq. Iraqi Kurdistan comprises three of Iraq’s 18 provinces and contains about one-fifth of Iraq’s population.

The outcome of the elections could affect efforts to resolve ethnic strife in disputed areas of northern Iraq bordering the Kurdish region, and ongoing conflicts over control of oil and its revenues.

Two main Kurdish parties have been the dominant political forces in the region for decades. These are Iraqi President Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Kurdish Regional Government President Massoud Barazani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).

This time, voters are choosing from more than 500 candidates from 24 slates for the111-seat regional Parliament. Dissatisfaction over corruption and political nepotism are a factor in the ferment.

In the first Kurdish election in 1992, only seven slates ran. In the second election, in 2005, there were 13 slates. Both times the PUK and KDP ran together, as they are doing now. In 2005, their alliance won 104 of the 111 legislative seats.

This time the PUK-KDP alliance is facing a strong challenge from PUK co-founder Nishurwan Mustafa who is running on his own Change List. Mustafa owns a powerful media company, Wisha, that he has used to promote his campaign. Most of the list is made up of former PUK officials. Some suggest that Mustafa could win 20 percent of the vote.

Another first is the formation of a left electoral slate, the Freedom and Social Justice list, which is composed of five left parties including the Kurdistan Communist Party.

The Kurdistan Communist Party has two seats in the Iraqi Parliament, and works closely with the Iraqi Communist Party, which also has two seats in Parliament.

In the past the Kurdish CP has participated in the Kurdish alliance led by the PUK and KDP.

Dr. Hadi Mahmoud, spokesman for the Freedom and Social Justice list and a member of the Kurdistan Communist Party, told the Kurdish Globe that the left parties had formed their electoral alliance in order to “find a way into the decision-making medium and effectively act there,” and because they “want to be able to create street/public activity — a form of left struggle that is democratic, civil, and peaceful.”

He made it clear that his list does not want to topple the ruling KDP-PUK alliance, but rather to ensure wider participation and transparency, especially in the economic field.

The left parties’ program, he said, emphasizes “social reforms, including developing society, expanding democracy's dimensions, expanding secularism, and spreading civil ideas in both political and social lives.”

“Leftists are not content with the economic policy of the Kurdish Regional Government and Iraq, which all are built dependent on the rationality of neo-liberalism,” Mahmoud said. “It was neo-liberalism that caused the economic crises for the capitalist system in the United States.” The left right now cannot call for establishing a socialist system — it is impossible to establish now, he said. But the left wants the existing capitalist system to “allow people a role.”

“We require the economic policy to be clear and progressive,” he said. “A healthy system cannot be achieved via slogans. The government should control the market and the region's investment law must be amended.”

Currently, he said, “all the doors are open for foreign investment while the law does not help native capitalists. Privileges given to a foreign investor are not allowed to a national investor. The foreign investors who come are exempted from taxes. Some contracts lack transparency. Development must be carried out in the social interest. Investment now, however, is the neo-liberal style that opens all the doors for investment without any control. This policy must be redirected.”

Also running is a list is made up several Islamic parties, one of them connected with the Muslim Brotherhood.

Five parliamentary seats have been reserved for the region’s Turkmen minority, another five seats for Chaldeans/Assyrians, and two seats for Armenians. Several slates are vying separately for these seats.

Kurdish voters are also electing the regional president. Incumbent President Barzani is expected to win handily over four competitors.

Officials and political analysts expect a high turnout. Balloting will be completed July 25.

A referendum on a controversial new regional constitution has been postponed until later this summer or early fall.

suewebb @ pww.org

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