Polls open in Iraqi Kurdistan for regional election

IRBIL/SULAIMANIA, Iraq: Kurds began voting in a parliamentary election in their semi-autonomous region in northern Iraq on Sunday, a year after a failed bid for independence.

With opposition parties weak, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) are likely to extend their almost three decades of sharing power.

Years of stagnant politics, unpaid salaries and corruption have undermined faith in politics and shrunk the turnout in recent elections.

Splits within the PUK present the possibility that Masoud Barzani’s KDP will take a dominant position in Kurdish politics.

The PUK and the Erbil-based Barzani’s KDP together form a dynastic duopoly predicated on patronage in the regions they respectively control.

There are 111-seats up for grabs in Sunday’s election, including 11 reserved for ethnic minorities.

But most major parties say they do not expect more than about 40 percent of the 3.85 million registered voters to go to the polls. Polls will close at 6pm. Preliminary results are expected within 72 hours.

In Sulaimaniya, stronghold of the PUK, only a handful of people trickled in to vote at the Shireen school, which has 4 separate polling stations.

“I wanted to make sure I voted early. I gave my vote to Gorran and hope for the best,” said Omar Mahmoud Abdullah, 52, referring to the main opposition party.

All opposition parties were weakened by dismal showings in May’s federal election, amid multiple allegations – not confirmed in the subsequent recount – of fraud by the two main parties.

The contentious referendum on independence in 2017, led by Barzani, promised to set Iraq’s Kurds on a path to a homeland.

Instead, a swift backlash from Baghdad dashed those prospects and diminished the region’s autonomy.

Nevertheless, some showed optimism about the future. Salar Karim arrived at a polling station with his wife and two young children, all dressed festively for the occasion.

“Today is a historic day for Kurds,” Karim, 50, said. “We get to elect our parliament as is our duty. I feel good about today.”

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