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Iraqi Kurdistan: Elections promise KDP victory - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Iraqi Kurdish electoral workers count votes at a polling station in the northern city of Erbil on September 21, 2013. (AFP PHOTO/AHMAD AL-RUBAYE)

Iraqi Kurdish electoral workers count votes at a polling station in the northern city of Erbil on September 21, 2013. (AFP PHOTO/AHMAD AL-RUBAYE)

Erbil/Suleimaniyah, Asharq Al-Awsat—The people of the Iraqi Kurdistan region went to the polls on Saturday to elect new representatives to the Parliament of Iraqi Kurdistan.

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) prime minister, Nechervan Barzani, and his wife were among the first voters to cast their ballots in Erbil, the capital of the region.

The Iraqi Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) announced that approximately 73.9 percent of the autonomous region’s population turned out to vote, with Duhok recording the highest turnout at 76 percent. Approximately 2.88 million people were eligible to vote.

The UN secretary-general’s special representative for Iraq, George Boston, praised Kurdistan’s high voter turnout.

Meanwhile, exit polls showed that the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), led by KRG president Massoud Barzani, will likely secure the most votes. They are followed by Nawshirwan Mustafa’s Gorran Party (Movement for Change), and then the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the party of Iraqi president Jalal Talabani.

Political observers agreed with the exit polls, expecting the KRG to win between 42 and 45 seats in the parliament. They also expected the KRG to secure the Erbil and Duhok constituencies.

Nechervan Barzani described the elections as a “very important duty” and congratulated residents on “this historic and important day for the people of Kurdistan.” He continued, saying: “The biggest winners were the people of Kurdistan, and the success of the process was a success for the people.”

Former KRG prime minister Barham Salih, who cast his vote in Suleimaniyah, described the elections as a “joyful carnival which allowed the people to choose freely who they want to represent them in the legislative authority.”

Salih told Asharq Al-Awsat that “for around a month we, the political parties, have been presenting our election programs to the people and the people have been listening to us. It is now time for us to wait for what the people decide.”

He added: “This is a memorable day in the history of the Kurdish people. We all await the people’s decision, and I hope all political parties that contested the elections will wait for the people’s decision and understand that people alone decide and do so through the ballot box.

“All we have to do is accept the decision and work together to protect our national unity and to strengthen Kurdistan’s stance, whatever the results may be.

“We live amid events which are burning the region, including wars, struggles and regional changes. That is in addition to the challenges facing the process of democracy in general in the region, which requires unity and cooperation from all sides.”

Nawshirwan Mustafa, the leader of the opposition Gorran (Movement for Change), expressed hope that the elections would be a good start to a new political phase in Kurdistan. He expressed his hope of building a new and fair democratic system in Kurdistan, adding, “I hope the elections pass quietly and that their results come to fulfil all people’s expectations.”

The elections were not completely free from problems, however. Issues with the new electronic voting system were reported early on.

Reports from Suleimaniyah and Duhok said polling stations were unable to accept voters due to the faulty devices. The devices were designed to place a unique code and time stamp on each ballot, but took almost 90 seconds per voter.

Handren Muhammad, head of the Erbil branch of the election commission, said: “We brought in these machines to regulate the voting process” following many complaints about voting irregularities in previous elections.

Sherzad Shekhani contributed reporting from Suleimaniyah.