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Iraqi Kurds head to the polls - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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An Iraqi Kurd woman casts her vote into a ballot box during regional parliamentary elections at a polling station in Erbil, capital of the autonomous Kurdistan region, about 350 km (217 miles) north of Baghdad, September 21, 2013.

An Iraqi Kurd woman casts her vote into a ballot box during regional parliamentary elections at a polling station in Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdistan region, about 217 miles (350 kilometers) north of Baghdad, on September 21, 2013.

Suleimaniyah, Asharq Al-Awsat—Iraq’s Kurds went to the polls on Saturday to vote for a new parliament, with analysts expecting the results to produce a massive upheaval in the makeup of the Kurdistan Region Government (KRG).

These are the first parliamentary elections in eight years in which Kurdistan’s two main parties, Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Massoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) are not participating on the same electoral list, with many expecting Kurdistan’s Gorran (Movement for Change) to become a major player.

The PUK has seen its political dominance of the KRG come under threat, particularly following the continued absence of party leader Jalal Talabani. The Iraqi president remains in Germany, where he is recuperating from a stroke he suffered last year. However the Kurdistan parliamentary elections have been overshadowed by unsubstantiated rumors about Talabani’s health, hurting the PUK’s chances.

One PUK official, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the eve of the elections on the condition of anonymity, welcomed the more visible role played by PUK deputy secretary-general Burham Salih during the final days of campaigning.

He said, “The election campaign was very heated, and the PUK leadership did everything in its power to manage this campaign, particularly given that it is participating in the elections for the first time as part of an independent list, so the appearance of Deputy Secretary-General Burham Salih in the final days of the election campaign helped to strengthen our party’s presence in many regions.”

“This could help change the electoral equations in the PUK’s favor, particularly as we faced strong competition in Suleimaniyah and Erbil,” he added.

The same PUK official criticized his party’s lack of minority candidates. Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat anonymously, he said: “There was not a single Turkmen among the party’s candidates, nor was there a single Christian, Feyli [Kurdish Shi’ite], or Kaka’i [a tribal federation] candidate.”

“They were marginalized at a time when these groups have a strong presence in the regions where the PUK traditionally enjoyed strong influence,” he added.

The PUK official said: “These groups have made huge sacrifices over the past decades, such as the Feylis who had an active role in the Kurdistan revolutions of liberation, with many being martyred to liberate Kurdistan.”

“Other parties included minority candidates on their electoral lists, despite the fact that these minorities also have their own lists,” he added.

Polls are set to close at 5:00 pm local time, with preliminary results expected over the coming days.