ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – All Kurdish parties in the Kurdistan Region, save for the Kurdistan Patriotic Union (PUK), rejected unofficial election results for the Sulaimani Province, urging the electoral commission to manually recount ballots due to allegations of fraud.
On Saturday, people across Iraq and the Kurdistan Region took part in national legislative elections, the first since the defeat of the Islamic State (IS). Polls opened at 7:00 a.m. and closed at 6:00 p.m.
Turnout stood at 44.5 percent, according to Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC). It is the lowest voter turnout rate in Iraq in the past 13 years. In the 2014 elections, roughly 60 percent headed to the polls.
Hours after polling stations closed across the Kurdistan Region and Iraq, some Kurdish parties raised concerns that alleged fraud took place, claiming the new electronic voting system was programmed to redirect votes in favor of a specific party.
Unlike previous elections, a biometric and electronic voting system was used in Saturday’s parliamentary elections, verifying voter cards, fingerprints, and counting ballots—a system meant to streamline the electoral process and prevent voter fraud.
Complaints mostly arose in Sulaimani, a PUK stronghold. Most parties contesting the results pointed the finger at the PUK, accusing them of tampering with the ballots and election results soon after they declared victory in that province.
Leading the call for an investigation and a recount as soon as unofficial results began trickling in was Gorran (Change), quickly followed by the Kurdistan Islamic Group (KIG), the Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU), the Coalition for Democracy and Justice (CDJ), New Generation, and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).
Officials from Gorran, the KIG, KIU, and CJD on Sunday told Kurdistan 24 they had voted with their families and party cadres in specific polling stations in Sulaimani in which results later claimed the parties had received no votes.
“I am a Gorran member of the Kurdistan Parliament. I voted with my family at our local polling station. The electronic vote-counting device later showed that my party had not even received a single vote in that station,” Bestun Fayeq, a Gorran member of the Kurdistan Parliament asserted while speaking to Kurdistan 24 on Sunday. He claimed the voting devices had been pre-programmed to favor one party over the others.
Eighteen seats in the Iraqi Parliament are reserved for the Sulaimani Province, which includes Halabja. Another 16 seats are allocated to Erbil, and 12 more for Duhok.
The KDP, currently leading in the Kurdistan Region according to unofficial results, in a statement released on Saturday, said they supported a manual recount of ballots across the Kurdistan Region to appease concerns.
“We will not allow anyone to point fingers at the PUK. This finger ought to be cut,” Saadi Pira, a spokesperson for the PUK told reporters at a press conference on Sunday.
He argued that parties are within their rights to issue complaints and claims of fraud with the IHEC who can choose to investigate.
Sulaimani Governor, Haval Abubakir, released a statement explaining that electronic vote-counting devices had raised suspicions among many parties and called on the IHEC to “take the necessary measures and investigate the complaints to ensure the transparency of the system.”
So far, there has been no official response from the IHEC regarding complaints of voter fraud in Sulaimani.
Editing by Nadia Riva