'Change' makes inroads against Kurdistan's dominant parties
Its relative success in Saturday's regional election reflects deep popular dissatisfaction with official corruption.
Two parties that control Iraq's semiautonomous Kurdistan faced the first serious internal challenge to their power in decades Saturday, in a regional election that underscored deep popular dissatisfaction with official corruption and autocratic behavior.Skip to next paragraph
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The challenge, from a new party called Goran, or Change, could tip the balance of power in the oil-rich region.
Although official results are not expected for at least a week, preliminary reports from both sides suggest that Goran is likely to have won a substantial minority of the 111-seats in the regional parliament, though probably not enough to form a government. That power will probably still go to the leading Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which have shared power of the region for 12 years and ran in this election jointly.
Goran spokesmen claim that they won 30 or more seats, which would give them substantial political clout and could allow them to make alliances with smaller parties to create a majority.
Local officials said turnout topped 78 percent, a measure of the interest Goran stirred in the electorate. During the election, the blue flags of Goran could be seen everywhere – especially in the eastern governorate of Sulaymaniyah, a PUK stronghold.
Corruption tops voters' agenda
But locally, people are far more vocal on the subject of corruption and nepotism.
"The corruption is infamous," says Mariwan Perwez Mariwan, the Goran representative for the Iraqi High Commission for Elections. As an example, he claims the government "will not issue licenses for new businesses unless they give a large percentage of profits to" a particular company that it's close to.
Change party officials said this weekend that they were pursuing claims of intimidation of voters and election officials. Vote monitors alleged widespread fraud in the region's other two governorates, Erbil and Dohuk, where the KDP and its leader, incumbent Kurdish President Massoud Barzani, are strongest.
There is a joke about corruption that swept the region ahead of Saturday's election – and illustrates why the Change party made such inroads as Kurdistan's first serious political opposition movement.
A Kurdish politician visits a friend in another country and remarks on the foreigner's sprawling villa. "How did you afford this place?" says the politician.
"See that bridge over there?" says the friend. "It was meant to cost $200 million. But we did it for $100 million, and I kept the rest."
Sometime later, the friend visits the Kurd, by now living in a vast palace."And how did you afford this?" asks the foreigner. "Well," says the Kurd, "see that bridge over there, which cost $200 million?" No, says the friend. "Exactly," says the Kurd.
It works better in Kurdish, apparently, but the joke's theme of disgust with the corruption and greed of Iraqi Kurdistan's ruling coalition captures the upswell in support for Change.
- Alice Fordham