Iraqi Kurd opposition hails poll breakthrough
By Shwan Mohammed (AFP) – 12 hours ago
SULAIMANIYAH, Iraq — A new opposition party in Iraqi Kurdistan said on Sunday that it had made a major breakthrough towards ending the region's long dominance by the two main former rebel factions.
The Goran (Change) list said it won most votes in the autonomous region's second city of Sulaimaniyah in weekend elections, raising the prospect of a strong opposition in parliament for the first time.
The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) of regional president Massud Barzani and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani have dominated Iraqi Kurdish politics for half a century, first as rebels and then following the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf war, as the region's effective rulers.
Goran said in a statement on its website that it had won the most votes in the parliamentary election in Sulaimaniyah, long a PUK stronghold, after a preliminary count, a claim confirmed by a senior KDP source who spoke on condition of anonymity.
"We have won the city and the province of Sulaimaniyah," the Goran statement said.
Preliminary results from the simultaneous presidential election suggested that the joint KDP-PUK candidate Barzani was also trailing in the province to London-based university professor Kamal Miraudly, who had been considered a rank outsider.
But the incumbent regional president was ahead in Kurdistan's other two provinces of Arbil and Dohuk, both traditional strongholds of his KDP.
The KDP source said that across the region, the joint KDP-PUK "Kurdistania" list won 59 percent of the vote, equating to around 55 seats in the region's 111-seat parliament.
The joint list held 78 seats in the outgoing parliament elected in 2005.
A senior Goran official told AFP that the party would win 28 seats -- 19 in Sulaimaniyah and nine in Arbil -- making it the first credible opposition to KDP-PUK dominance that the region has seen.
Another leftist-Islamist list could win as many as 17 seats.
Final results are not expected for several days. After the preliminary count in the regional capital Arbil, ballots are to be sent to Baghdad for an official tally.
Goran is led by Nusherwan Mustafa, a wealthy entrepreneur and former deputy leader of the PUK.
"The Kurdistania list has won enough seats to form a strong government, and Goran has a sufficient number of seats to be a strong opposition," said Hoger Shatu, the director of a non-governmental group monitoring the election.
Nearly 80 percent of the region's voters turned out in what election officials trumpeted as a transparent poll.
No opinion polls were carried out in the run-up to Saturday's election, which had made the outcome difficult to predict.
Kurds exhibited increasing concern over corruption through the course of 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" and and "an opportunity to resolve all problems".
Barzani told reporters on Saturday: "We hope that these elections will be a first step to solving issues with Baghdad."
But he also insisted: "I will work to get back the disputed areas."
He 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.
Those claims are strongly opposed by Arab and other non-Kurdish populations of the disputed areas and have led to mounting friction with Baghdad.