Iraqi Kurds line up at a polling station in Arbil yesterday.
ARBIL: Iraq’s Kurds voted yesterday in their first election in four years as their autonomous region grapples with disputes with Baghdad and fellow Kurds fight bloody battles in neighbouring Syria.
The election for the region’s parliament comes as turmoil roiling the Middle East has raised renewed questions about the political future of the Kurdish nation as a whole.
Election officials began tabulating votes after polling stations closed at 5pm (1400 GMT), with observers and diplomats reporting that the vote itself passed off largely without incident, though the weeks leading up to it saw sporadic violence against an opposition bloc’s supporters.
The UN praised the “smooth conduct” of the polls and high voter turnout. Iraq’s election commission put turnout at 73.9 percent, with preliminary results expected in the coming days. About 2.8 million Kurds were eligible to vote across the three-province region of northern Iraq.
The campaign centered on calls for more to be done to fight corruption and improve the delivery of basic services, as well as on how the energy-rich region’s oil revenues should be spent. “The main problem... is economic,” said Mohammed Saleh. “The cost of living now is high, and the people need more money. The new parliament needs to organise a programme for solving this.”
The election, the first since July 2009, sees three main parties jostling for position in the 111-seat Kurdish parliament, with implications beyond Iraq.
The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) of regional president Massud Barzani is widely expected to win the largest number of seats, although it is unlikely to obtain a majority on its own. “We have taken another step in the region to consolidate democracy,” regional prime minister Nechirvan Barzani, the president’s nephew, said after casting his ballot.
The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), which is in government with the KDP, however faces a challenge from the Goran movement in its Sulaimaniyah province stronghold. AFP