Oytun Orhan, ORSAM Middle East Researcher
The events in the north of Iraq during the elections and the results of the elections have shown that the Kurdish politics has not normalized yet. It is seen that a movement, which may receive general support from the Kurds throughout all the areas that they live, are not present yet. The primary reason for that is the Kurdish voters still favor regional and tribal allegiances while casting their votes.
Besides, the political parties do not allow other political parties to propagate freely in their own areas. That control, which was previously upheld by violence, is now maintained through legal means. Each party dominated the areas they are strong in. Those views are shared by most Kurdish opinion leaders. Especially the Goran (Change) Movement frequently expresses their views on the frauds during the elections. However, it is strongly believed that if there had been free elections in Duhok, the Kurdish Islamist parties would have won.
The most important outcome of the elections in terms of the Kurdish interior politics is that KDP’s strength in the north has grown further. It is even to the extent that, some experts that we talked in Arbil has labeled KDP as “the sole authority”. The most probable outcome of such a view is that the alliance between KDP and PUK, which rests on the distribution of resources in half shares, might collapse. KDP might consider that its weight in the alliance has distinctively risen, so it does not have to share resources with PUK in half shares. During our talks in Arbil, in which KDP is dominant, it is observed that such views started to emerge. Above all, KDP has gained the psychological upper ground compared to PUK. The practical outcome of this might be the increasing share of KDP on resources, posts and privileges due to increased pressure over PUK. However, it is not realistic that KDP will be the sole determinant factor in the Kurdish politics.
Issues like “Kirkuk, Article 140, oil, the status of the peshmarga, presidency”, which the Kurds consider as “national problems” need the collaboration of the Kurdish parties, which hinder the KDP to gain the advantages of the election victory to the full extent. According to Dr. Sabah Suphi Hayder, the Head of the Department of Political Science in Salahaddin University, “the greatest factors that unite the Kurds are Kirkuk and the status of disputed areas”. KDP is unable to acquire advantages for the Kurds in those issues by working alone. For this reason, KDP officials evaluate the strategic alliance in a deliberate way. In the words of Pistivan Sadik, the Arbil representative of KDP, “strategic alliance is a national issue and Kurdish national interests come first. For this reason the strategic alliance will never collapse”.
Besides, KDP needs the support of PUK, for the regional government presidency. The last factor that drives KDP towards carrying on the strategic alliance is the increasing power of the Kurdish Islamist parties. KDP would want to keep PUK on its side against the Kurdish Islamists. All political groups in the Kurdish region are focused on the provincial elections that are to be held in October. Each party will individually take place in this election. Questioning the strategic alliance between KDP and PUK is mostly postponed to the post-elections period.
In this context the Kurds, leaving aside their problems, have signed an agreement on May 8th 2010, In order to have a stronger position in Baghdad. Five Kurdish parties, which won seats In the Parliament, have decided on acting together as a united front in Baghdad. The united front will enter the government negotiations on behalf of all five parties and all Kurdish parties will enter the government. Each party will have a share based on its proportion in the Parliament. The Kurds seek to compensate for their relative weakness after the elections. In the words of Dr. Sabah Suphi Hayder, the Head of the Department of Political Science in Salahaddin University, “the Kurds have to unite against the others despite their problems within each other”. This means that the Kurds consider Baghdad as a means to protect and further their acquisitions in the Kurdish region.
It was not possible in the previous election, to determine the power base of each party, because the parties took place in the blocs and the closed list system was adopted. It is now clearly known for the first time that which party is strong where, for the reason that the open list system was adopted. KDP won 30 seats and is the indisputable winner in terms of the Kurdish interior politics. Considering the results in a different perspective suggests that KDP’s success relies on its formulation of election strategy. Yet, the Goran and PUK are over KDP in terms of the vote count. PUK and Goran representatives that we talked in Sulaimany stated that it is completely a failure in the election strategy.KDP achieved success through focusing on candidates that are less in number. Asos Hadi, journalist from Sulaimany, puts that “KDP got 600,000 votes, while Goran got 420,000 and PUK got 410,000. The total votes of Goran and PUK exceed those of KDP; however KDP won more seats in the Parliament than PUK and Goran combined. This is totally a failure in election strategy.” Considering the distribution of votes, it is early to suggest that KDP is the center of attraction for the Kurds. However, it can be said that KDP’s political strength compared to the other political parties will rise.
One of the most critical issues regarding the Kurdish interior politics is the future of PUK and Talabani. PUK lost a great deal of political power in the regional parliamentary elections of 2009. The Goran Movement, which was established by former members of PUK, got 24% of total votes in the regional parliamentary elections. Although PUK has slowed its decline against the Goran Movement in March 7 Elections, the dual structure of the Kurdish politics based on KDP and PUK has collapsed. The future of PUK, which was dealt the most severe blow by the mentioned collapse, is focused on the period after Talabani. Talabani’s charismatic leadership is seen as the power that holds PUK together. However, Talabani has problems related to his health and the period after him is being discussed in a covert way. PUK will have difficult times, if Talabani retires from politics. The PUK Congress, which will be held in October, is of great importance, because it will shed some light on the period after Talabani. After the Congress, it is expected that significant changes will take place within PUK and important signals about the post-Talabani period will be seen. Now there are six fractions within PUK competing against each other. Talabani’s presence is considered as the factor hindering conflict and disintegration. According to Cemal Hüseyin, Editor-in-Chief of the Gele Kurdistan TV, which is the media arm of PUK, “the post-Congress PUK will in no way same as the pre-Congress PUK”.
Finally, looking at the perceptions among the Kurds on the results in Kirkuk province, it is possible to say that the results were blow the expectations. PUK and Goran candidates that we had the opportunity to talk before the election, predicted that the Kurds would gain eight and the Arabs would gain four seats out of the twelve seats of Kirkuk. They predicted that the Turkmans wil at most gain one single seat or none at all. Therefore, it was unexpected for the Kurds that they won six seats, the Arabs won four seats and the Turkmans won two seats. Besides, Al-Iraqiya list is the first in total votes cast. The results rule out the legitimate grounds for the claims of the Kurds over Kirkuk.
Kurdish politicians and opinion leaders that we talked after the elections were adamant that he results do not constitute a defeat for the Kurds. They claim that total votes of all Kurdish parties are more that the votes won by al-Iraqiya. However, it can be said that the Kurds are in second position in the total votes cast as well. That is because; the Turkmans and Arabs were divided into several parties just like the Kurds. Therefore, it is seen that non-Kurdish votes are greater in number when all Kurdish parties’ votes and all Arab and Turkman parties’ votes are compared.
June 15 2010