Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is preparing to hold parliamentary elections on Sept. 21, 2013.
The parliamentary elections, which were fixed for Sept. 21 after long disputes, are of great importance in terms of the domestic policy of the KRG. A critical turn is also about to be taken in terms of the influence of especially the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), led by Massoud Barzani, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), led by Jalal Talabani, which jointly hold power in the KRG, on Kurdish internal politics in the coming period. This is because Islamist Kurdish parties, especially the Gorran Movement, have been preparing for the elections with great hopes. Following the health problems of Talabani, the future of the strategic alliance between the KDP and the PUK is unclear. Besides, the performance of political parties, other than the KDP, will also attract interest should the PUK lose power. Therefore, if the elections are held fairly and transparently, it is highly likely that there will be changes in the internal political and administrative structure of the KRG as a result of the elections.
Where do Turkmens stand in this process? Those elections are as significant for Turkmens as they are for Kurdish parties in the KRG. In accordance with the KRG parliamentary elections law passed in March 2009, Turkmens were allocated five seats in the 111-seat KRG Parliament. Accordingly, during the KRG parliamentary elections held on July 25, 2009, four Turkmen lists -- the Independent Turkmen Movement, the Turkmen Reform Movement, the Turkmen Democracy Movement and the Arbil Turkmen List -- competed for the five seats in parliament. The Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITF), which is the most popular and biggest political Turkmen group in terms of organizational structure, political background and representation capacity, did not take part in the KRG parliamentary elections.
As a result of the elections, the Turkmen Reform Movement and the Arbil Turkmen List won a seat each, while the Turkmen Democracy Movement won three seats. The Independent Turkmen Movement, on the other hand, did not receive sufficient votes to win a seat in parliament. However, major disputes took place regarding the votes received by the Turkmen Democracy Movement, and it was alleged that votes had been illegally transferred to the party, which is known for its close relations with the KDP. The fact that the vast majority of votes that the Turkmen Democracy Movement received came from Duhok, where the Turkmen population is a minority, raised doubts and increased allegations that the KDP wanted to control the Turkmen votes.
Turkmen political groups to run in elections
The objections did not change the result, and the Turkmen Democracy Movement became the Turkmen movement with the biggest number of members, winning three seats in the KRG Parliament. In addition, Turkmens were provided with a ministry in the government that was formed in the post-2009 election, and Sinan Çelebi, the brother of Arbil Turkmen List's leader, Mahmoud Çelebi, was appointed as the minister of industry and trade.
The Turkmen political groups that will take part in the elections to be held on Sept. 21 are:
- The ITF;
- the Arbil Turkmen List;
- the Turkmen Progressive Movement (a joint list between the KDP Turkmen Office, the Turkmen Cultural Center and the Turkmen Democratic Party);
- the Turkmen Change and Renewal List (formed under the leadership of the Turkmen Reform Movement); and
- the Turkmen Democracy Movement.
Considering the increasing number of Turkmen lists taking part in elections before each electoral period in the KRG, it might be concluded that Turkmens have been engaged in politics in the KRG. While Turkmen parties took part in the 2005 KRG parliamentary elections in a joint list led by the KDP and the PUK, four Turkmen lists took part in the 2009 elections. Though it was initially stated that six lists would participate in the parliamentary elections to be held on Sept. 21, the Turkmeneli Party declared it was withdrawing from the elections to support the ITF. Thus, five Turkmen lists will now compete in the KRG elections.
However, the fact that Turkmens were provided with a quota within the political system in the KRG limits Turkmens from proving themselves politically. It might be suggested that there is an imbalance in the current quota system when it is compared with the population of Turkmens in the KRG. It would not be wrong to assert that a Turkmen voter who believes that the influence of Turkmen parties will be limited in a quota system avoids voting for Turkmen parties. Similarly, even if Turkmen parties took part in the elections with the quota, they try to grow beyond the quota by establishing close relations with major political parties and lists after the elections. Hence, Turkmen politicians believe that the Turkmen quota in the KRG Parliament should be increased or, if they believe that a real Turkmen potential could emerge, they should agree to drop the quota.
On the other hand, maybe the most important difference between the 2013 elections and the previous ones is the fact that the ITF is taking part in the elections under its own name. As is known, the ITF suspended its dialogue with Kurdish parties for a long time, especially due to the Kirkuk issue, and kept its distance from KRG politics because of the KRG's claims on Kirkuk. Also, the KRG prevented the ITF from conducting politics within the borders of the region and exerted pressure on ITF offices. Furthermore, the offices and bureaus of the ITF were seized with the support of peshmerga forces and given over to some Turkmen parties and organizations alleged to be pro-KDP. However, Kurdish groups reduced their pressure on Turkmens upon Turkey's recommendation, and the ITF showed moderation towards Kurds in politics in parallel with developing relations between Turkey and the KRG after 2011. As a result, the Arbil office of the ITF was reopened and a dialogue was established between the ITF and KRG politicians.
Excitement and pressure
The restarting of the ITF's political activities within the KRG caused excitement among Turkmens in the region. It is clearly felt when one talks to Turkmens in the KRG. Nevertheless, it is necessary to touch on some issues at this point. Despite the re-launching of the ITF's political activities in the KRG, it is not yet certain whether the front will receive the support of the Turkmen people. The people still feel pressure even if there have been developments in terms of rights and freedoms in the KRG. Turkmens in particular feel this pressure more than others. Therefore, Turkmens might worry that the KRG would exert more pressure if they voted for the ITF. Hence, the Turkmen people in the region could either vote for other Turkmen lists that have better relations with the KRG, like before, or vote directly for Kurdish parties. Many Turkmens in the KRG are directly or indirectly related to the government as they work in government offices. Therefore, Turkmens try to avoid pressure by voting for the party in power or the dominant party instead of voting for Turkmen lists. In addition, another reason is believed to be Turkmens' desire to become integrated in the system in the KRG. Turkmens were excluded from the system in the KRG for a long time due to their political conflict with Kurds. They either worked directly in Kurdish institutions and organizations to become integrated in the system or had to work together. With a realistic point of view, namely based on the idea that it is not possible to make their presence felt, Turkmens endeavored to become integrated in the system.
While the KDP and the PUK -- the dominant parties of the KRG -- held power, they did not make it possible for an opposition to be formed. The emergence of the Gorran Movement and Islamic groups as opposition after the 2009 elections disturbed the parties in power in the KRG. Thus, the reports of many international organizations show that the ruling powers in the KRG exerted pressure on opponent political groups through media organs, political organizations and government offices as well as through jurisdiction and academic studies.
In such an environment, it does not seem possible for Turkmens to preserve their identity and to be active in the political system. Therefore, the majority of Turkmen political organizations in the KRG have adopted a pro-government stance. The fact that the ITF will take part in the 2013 elections makes the situation different. From this point of view, the performance of the ITF before the elections is important in terms of the Turkmen identity. But opposition parties in particular raise allegations regarding electoral fraud in elections in the KRG. The suspicions over whether the Turkmen votes will be rigged or not raises question marks in people's minds.
3 September 2013