As the general parliamentary elections get near, what are the implications for Kurdistan after the May 12 election? As one drives on the streets of Erbil, one notices the many colorful posters of the various candidates for the Kurdistan and Iraqi parliament. The visually appealing posters may indicate a shift in politics.
After the Kurdistan referendum for Independence, there was political stagnation and a lot of animosity from the Federal Government of Iraq. The borders and the airports were temporarily closed, Iraqi Hashd al-Shaabi alongside other Iraqi militia forces occupied the Kirkuk region and other Kurdish-dominated disputed areas. Things came to a standstill. Erbil and Baghdad were at a very critical political juncture.
There was a lot of political propaganda on Baghdad’s side to show the future voters that the Federal Government of Iraq is ‘firm’ with the Kurdistan Region. Much of it was political muscle flexing rather than anything else. Eventually, as tensions started to ease and the general parliamentary elections neared, things took a turn for the better.
Are these elections going to be any different than the previous ones? In the writer’s opinion, the answer is a definite yes. There are significant changes in the way the elections are held and how the votes are being cast. New high-tech electronic equipment is being used to prevent forgery - this may boost electorate turn out and bring confidence in the integrity of the elections. Also, this is going to be the first elections after the recent disagreements and differences between the different Kurdish political parties.
In addition, there are newer political movements both on the Kurdistan and Iraqi side. These new groups will bring some competition into the elections. It will also create an atmosphere of open democracy, where the Ballot Box is the power maker or breaker. This is a healthy phenomenon which shows the level of democracy in Kurdistan and the openness of the political system.
How do people in Kurdistan feel about the elections? It seems there is a sense of political apathy among people about what the consequences of these elections will be. Whether those elected will really solve the economic and political problems facing the Kurdistan Region, or, are simply making electoral promises. The number one concern for the population is putting bread on the table. The lack of wages has seriously affected people’s living standards. As around a third of the Kurdish population is on the public payroll. The Kurdish electorate will be voting with this concern at the top of their mind.
This sense of political apathy is not solely limited to Kurdistan and Iraqi region. Even in highly developed countries like the United States, voter turnout is as low as 55 percent. Nations with the highest voter turnouts, like Belgium and Turkey (higher than 80 percent) are not because the people are very politically active. Belgium and Turkey have put in place compulsory voting laws that force their citizens to go the ballot box and vote. Therefore, the lack of interest in voting in elections is a global phenomenon. The interesting fact is that when people voted for the Kurdistan referendum for independence, it is estimated that around 90 percent turned up! That shows how committed the Kurdish people were in a political cause in which they believed.
Swara Kadir is a UK educated business studies lecturer and writer at a leading private school in Erbil.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Kurdistan24.
Editing by Nadia Riva