Barzani Headquarters

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Kurdish Parties in Iraq’s Upcoming Federal Elections

by Mera Jasm Bakr

New Electoral Law and Parties’ Strategies

Adapting to the new electoral law, the Iraqi Kurdish parties are pursuing various strategies to preserve their political status in the upcoming elections.

As Iraq’s general elections slated for October 10th approach, the Kurdish political parties in the Iraqi northern Kurdistan Region (KRI) and disputed areas are vigorously competing to protect their roles as kingmakers in Baghdad. Influence at the national level, in turn (and perhaps just as importantly), is critical to the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan’s (PUK) ability to remain veto players and shape the domestic politics of the KRI. In these elections, the parties will not only be settling political scores in rivalries that have escalated dangerously since the 2018 elections, but they will be contending with a transformed electoral system that will alter time-honored strategies for mobilizing voters and dividing the spoils of victory.

The upcoming election presents to be unique in that a new electoral law featuring Single Non-Transferable Vote (SNTV) system is implemented. While providing greater opportunities for independent candidates to register and compete and empowering the women’s quota with a significant amount of control over the outcome of the election, there remain serious challenges ahead for minor parties and women to overcome the dominance of large, well-established parties. In the KRI and areas of the disputed territories (Kirkuk, Nineveh, Salahuddin and Diyala -provinces) they claim as part of their spheres of influence, the KDP and PUK strive for a margin of victory in the elections that will protect their positions and interests in Baghdad. Tied to this struggle is that between the Kurdish parties themselves, who will use the election to compete for supremacy within the Kurdish bloc at the national level and, by extension, to secure a favorable division of power at the regional level. Consequently, disagreements on the distribution of posts in Baghdad, in particular Iraqi presidency, which intensified the rivalry between the KDP and PUK after the 2018 elections, could be reignited.

This report describes how the Kurdish political parties are adapting to and are leveraging the new electoral law to defend their status as veto players in both Baghdad and Erbil. Through interviews with experts, candidates, and party officials as well as analysis of secondary data, this paper explores how the Kurdish political parties have responded to the new electoral framework and how it changes the landscape and nature of political competition in the Kurdistan Region. It also explores how the new law, which was ostensibly designed to encourage the participation of independent candidates, outside of the mainstream parties across the country, still rewards large, well-resourced and well-disciplined parties at the expense of minor parties and marginalized groups.

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