Opposition set to break Iraqi Kurd stranglehold

Iraqi authorities were set on Monday to release preliminary results from weekend elections in the automomous Kurdish region after a new opposition party claimed a major breakthrough.

The Goran (Change) list said it had won more than a quarter of seats in the regional Kurdish Parliament in Saturday’s legislative election, raising the prospect of a strong opposition for the first time.

The vote was held at a key time in Iraq’s transition as regional leaders are locked in a bitter dispute with Baghdad over land and oil, while local voters also voiced increasing concern over corruption.

Incumbent regional president Massud Barzani won 70% of the vote in a simultaneous presidential poll pitting him against four other candidates, presidential cabinet chief Fuad Hussein said on Sunday.

A joint list uniting Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani won 60% of ballots cast in the parliamentary vote, Hussein said.

The two parties have dominated Iraqi Kurdish politics for half a century, first as rebels and then as the region’s effective rulers in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf war over Saddam Hussein’s invasion of neighbouring Kuwait.

The results would give the KDP-PUK list about 55 seats in the 111-seat Parliament, down from 78 seats in the outgoing assembly elected in 2005.

A senior Goran official told AFP his party would win 28 seats, making it the first credible opposition to the longstanding KDP-PUK dominance in the rugged mountainous north of Iraq.

Nearly 80% of the region’s 2,5-million voters took part in what poll officials trumpeted as a transparent election. Final results are not due for several days, as ballots must be transported to Baghdad for an official count.

Goran said in a statement on its website that it had won the most votes in Sulaimaniyah, long a PUK stronghold in northeastern Iraq, after a preliminary count.

“We have won the city and the province of Sulaimaniyah,” said the list led by Nusherwan Mustafa, a wealthy entrepreneur and former deputy head of the PUK, which has been riven by internal dissent in past months.

A leftist-Islamist list could win as many as 17 seats in the Parliament, according to unofficial figures.

Kurds expressed increasing concern over corruption throughout the campaign, while disputes with Baghdad over territory and oil also loomed over the election.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki described the election as “another step in building a democratic Iraq”, while Barzani told reporters on Saturday: “We hope these elections will be a first step to solving issues with Baghdad.”

But the Kurdish regional president also insisted: “I will work to get back the disputed areas.”

Barzani was referring to longstanding Kurdish demands to incorporate the oil province of Kirkuk and historically Kurdish-majority parts of three other provinces into their autonomous region.—Sapa-AFP

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