Elections in Iraqi Kurdistan
After the United States helped establish a no-fly zone over Iraqi Kurdistan during the Gulf War, the Iraqi Kurds were able to hold their first presidential and parliamentary elections for a newly established Kurdish unity government on May 19, 1992. The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) won 45% of the vote while the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) won 44% of the vote. Due to accusations of voter fraud, the parties agreed to the unity government with both parties taking 50 seats each.
The unity government lasted until 1994, when the two parties broke out in civil war. During the struggle, both the KDP and PUK set-up their own administrations in Hewler and Sulaymaniyah, respectively, each claiming to be the legitimate government administration. The civil war came to an end when the United States helped broker a peace treaty between the KDP and PUK in September 1998.
The primary goal of the 2005 elections was to end party-rule in the Iraqi Kurdistan and unify the two major parties. In 2004, the two parties created one unified list or coalition called the Democratic Patriotic Alliance of Kurdistan, which included several smaller parties as well. Not surprisingly, the coalition received the majority of votes (an overwhelming 90%) allowing the KDP and PUK to effectively divide key positions in government. The coalition achieved 104 of the 111 seats in parliament.
In 2005, Massoud Barzani, a member of the KDP, and former KDP president, was elected to be president of the new KRG. Term limits were to be four years.
In 2009, the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) decided that the president would no longer be selected by parliament, and instead, direct elections would take place. Massoud Barzani ran for re-election and won with a landslide victory getting approximately 70% of the votes. Kemal Mirawdily came second with 25%.
The parliamentary election results confirm the two-party-led coalition, Kurdistan List, a joint KDP-PUK list winning 59 seats and a new party, Movement for Change (Gorran) winning 25 seats. Five each were reserved for Turkmen and Assyrian candidates, one for an Armenian candidates and the rest won by minority parties.
Parliamentary elections were held again on 21 September 2013. In the months leading up to the elections, the Parliament extended President Massoud Barzani’s term for another two years, until 2015. This election marked the first time since 1992 that the KDP and PUK were running as individual parties and also the first time that a new party, Movement for Change (Gorran), challenged the two party rule.
The KDP won 38 seats, Gorran won 24 and the PUK won 18 for a total of 80, 17 seats were won by three Islamic Parties, 3 won by three left wing parties and again five each were reserved for Turkmen and Assyrian candidates, one for an Armenian candidates. Of the total of 111 seats, 77 men and 34 women were elected.
56 seats were needed for a majority and the right to form a government, but no single party won 56 seats. A coalition government was formed with Nechirvan Barzani as Prime Minister (KDP), Qubad Talabani as Deputy Prime Minister (PUK) and Yousif Muhammed as Speaker of Parliament (Gorran).
Elections in the Kurdish Region of Turkey
As there is no Kurdish autonomous region in Turkey, Kurdish politicians run for office in Turkish elections. In national Turkish politics, the Kurdish vote is seen as a swing vote for major candidates who all are vying for the Kurdish vote. Kurdish voters are divided between those who favor the current administration of Incumbent Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and one of their own, Selahattin Demirtas who leads the People’s Democratic Party (HDP).
Demirtas advocates Kurdish minority rights and has the support of Kurdish separatists who would like to see an autonomous, if not independent Kurdish region in Turkey. A vote for Demirtas, although he has little chance to win in the national election, would be a symbolic vote for Kurdish nationalism and would strengthen the Kurdish hand in negotiations with the national government for better representation for the Kurds.
Erdogan has steadily advocated Kurdish rights after a cease fire was declared by PKK founder Abdullah Ocalan and continues to be receptive to improving both the economic opportunities for Kurds as well as cultural recognition. The area is experiencing economic improvement and many Turkish Kurds believe that an independence movement will result in turmoil and throw the region back to the day not long ago where hostilities was a fact of everyday life.
Even Ocalan is no longer advocating independence and has been promoting from prison “Democratic Confederalism” which he says: “The democratic confederalism of Kurdistan is not a State system, it is the democratic system of a people without a State… It takes its power from the people and adopts to reach self sufficiency in every field including economy.”
Elections in the Kurdish Region of Iran
After the Iranian revolution, separatism and the Kurdish nationalist movement were condemned by the Ayatollah Khomeini as contrary to Islamic doctrine. The response to the separatist movement in the aftermath of the revolution was a crushing military defeat. Whole villages and towns were destroyed by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards who were sent to provinces to regain control from Kurdish separatists. Thousands of Kurds were killed and those not killed outright were executed.
In February 1999, Kurdish nationalists took to the streets in several cities such as Mahabad, Sanandaj and Urmia and staged mass protests against the government and in support of Abdullah Ocalan. This was viewed as “trans-nationalization” of the Kurdish movement. These protests were violently suppressed by the government forces. According to human rights groups, at least 20 people were killed.
Kurdish voter turnout in Iranian elections is low, and many Kurds who aspire to be politicians in Iran’s parliament are disqualified by a government committee responsible for qualifying candidates.