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Kurds prepare for elections as campaigning ends - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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A member of the Kurdish Peshmerga battalions shows his ink-stained finger after voting at a polling station in the northern Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah on September 19, 2013, in the region's legislative elections. (AFP)

A member of the Kurdish Peshmerga battalions shows his ink-stained finger after voting at a polling station in the northern Kurdish city of Suleimaniyah on September 19, 2013, in the region’s legislative elections. (AFP)

Erbil, Asharq Al-Awsat—With the election campaign in Kurdistan drawing to an end on Thursday, a decision by the election commission in Suleimaniyah to allow journalists to cover only six polling stations has raised concerns. Parliamentary elections are set to take place on Saturday, September 21, 2013, with Kurdish voters heading to the polls on Thursday to vote in the legislative elections.

A number of journalists began collecting signatures yesterday to force the commission to retract its decision and grant the media the freedom to cover the more than 500 polling stations throughout Suleimaniyah governorate.

Asharq Al-Awsat spoke with a number of political leaders and intellectuals in Kurdistan regarding the expected outcome of Saturday’s parliamentary elections. The dissolution of the traditional alliance between Kurdistan’s two main parties, Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Massoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), has created a tense climate, with fundamental political changes in the makeup of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) expected.

The Kurdistan politicians who spoke with Asharq Al-Awsat unanimously agreed that these elections would be decisive for all parties, particularly the two main parties.

This is the first time that the PUK and KDP have entered elections on independent lists, prompting one Kurdish official speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat anonymously to say that “the mere fact that the PUK has entered the elections independently means a complete end to the strategic alliance between the PUK and the KDP.”

He added that “the fierce competition in the current election campaign and the exchange of accusations between the two parties is evidence that their strategic agreement has failed.”

In addition to the previous electoral and political alliance between the PUK and KDP in Kurdistan, the two main Kurdish parties had reached a strategic alliance in terms of their dealings with Baghdad and in the Iraqi parliament. However, the fierce competition and exchange of accusations between the two during the election campaign season has seen serious questions raised over the prospects of future cooperation.

Polls say Barzani’s KDP is leading the Kurdistan election race, with the Gorran (the Movement for Change) in second place, followed by the PUK.

A Kurdish official, also speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, said: “What is certain is that the PUK’s position, which has been an equal to the Barzani party over the past 20 years, was shaken because of the continued absence of its leader, Jalal Talabani. By contrast, Gorran’s popularity has grown and began to seriously threaten the position of the PUK, not only in its stronghold in Suleimaniyah, but across Kurdistan.”

“I expect the elections to bring about change by producing a new political map in Kurdistan with three political forces, the KDP, Gorran and the PUK, dominating the scene.”

Regarding the position of Barzani’s party towards the weakening strategic alliance with the PUK, the Kurdish official said: “There are two schools of thought within the Barzani party: those who call for preserving the alliance with the PUK despite its weakness, and others who prefer a new alliance with an alternative party.”

“The KDP cannot turn its back on a long history of alliance with Talabani’s party, but it also cannot ignore Gorran. Therefore, I expect the current political alliance to expand to include Gorran, with a ruling alliance of the three parties to be formed to run the region’s affairs.”

Information obtained by Asharq Al-Awsat has shown that efforts are currently underway to reduce tensions between Gorran and the PUK, which are traditional rivals. There have also been leaked reports of secret meetings between the two under Iranian mediation.