Threatens withdrawal from Iraq political process

In bombshell statement, KDP announces boycott of upcoming elections

ERBIL — The Kurdistan Democratic Party, one of the two ruling parties of the Kurdistan Region, has announced that it will not participate in the long-delayed upcoming Kurdistan parliamentary elections, scheduled for June 10.

The hugely consequential announcement comes amid reports in local media outlets on KDP representatives in Baghdad and the President of the Kurdistan Region Nechirvan Barzani, who is also KDP vice president, requesting the Iraqi Electoral Commission to delay the elections further.

The KDP has for the last year been calling for its rival and coalition partner the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan  to agree to elections under the then-existing electoral system. The decision today marks a remarkable turnaround in rhetoric after insisting for months – to both domestic and diplomatic audiences – that it was the party lobbying hardest for the elections to finally take place.

It is unclear whether the KDP will allow for elections to take place at all within Duhok and Erbil, governorates it controls. However, the prospects of holding elections without the participation of the region’s biggest and most powerful party are slim in any scenario.

The decision appears to stem from skepticism within the party that the federal electoral commission would postpone the elections. KDP officials have been briefing local media for the past week about possible delays.

In today’s statement, the KDP threatened to “discontinue” its participation in the Iraqi political process, requesting ruling parties within the governing coalition to “adhere to the constitution, fulfill political and administrative agreement clauses.” It is a threat with the weight of Iraqi political history behind it. Before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the Kurdistan Region was almost completely estranged from Baathist Iraq for more than ten years. It was regime change and the promise of an inclusive federal Iraq that brought the Kurdistan Region’s two main parties back to Baghdad.

Earlier this month, Kurdish Federal Supreme Court Justice Abdulrahman Suleiman Zebari ‘withdrew’ from duty in protest at the court’s verdicts on the Kurdistan Region.

In its statement, the KDP criticized the decisions of the Federal Supreme Court in recent years as “unconstitutional” and “illegal” efforts against the Kurdistan Region. Specifically, it pointed to the Court’s rulings on the Kurdistan Parliament election law, which it views as further unconstitutional actions against the region, continuing a “series of unconstitutional decisions made over the past four years.”

The party accuses the Federal Court of overstepping its bounds, “assuming legislative and executive powers not assigned to it by the constitution,” and directly intervening in the region’s legislature, undermining the democratic system of the Kurdistan Region.

The Federal Court last month invalidated the Kurdistan Region’s election law, effectively disabling the region’s electoral commission by decreeing that elections must be overseen by the federal commission. The court also amended sections of the electoral law to reduce the seats in Kurdistan’s unicameral legislature from 111 to 100, labeling the 11 seats reserved for ethnic minorities ‘unconstitutional’. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan has long advocated for electoral reform, accusing the KDP of using the quota seats to install minority lawmakers loyal to it. The KDP denies these claims and has criticized the court for its tendency to not just overturn laws passed by parliament but to modify or rewrite them arbitrarily, arguing that such actions overstep the legislature’s authority and breach principles of separation of powers.

However, following the court verdict, President Nechirvan Barzani signed a decree on March 3 setting the June date for elections to finally take place. The decision was warmly welcomed by the Kurdistan Region’s international partners and Western diplomats based in Iraq, many of whom had been lobbying Kurdish officials intensely for elections to be held.

The UN Assistance Mission to Iraq said in a statement today: “We take note of today’s KDP decision, as we have taken note of the FSC decision last month. We call on all parties to work in the interest of the people, and thus towards solutions, rather than another prolonged impasse. The holding of the 10 June KRI elections is essential.”

American Ambassador to Iraq Alina Romanowski expressed her country’s disappointment in a tweet: “We are concerned by KDP’s announcement to boycott the Iraqi Kurdistan Region elections. We urge the Government of Iraq & the Kurdistan Regional Government to ensure that elections are free, fair, transparent, & credible. All the people of Iraqi Kurdistan Region should have a voice in determining their future.”

The PUK‘s spokesperson, Saadi Ahmed Pira, said: “The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan is committed to the date of the Kurdistan parliamentary elections on June 10, 2024, as decided by the esteemed President of the Region. The PUK believes that the Kurdistan parliamentary elections are the best way to deepen democracy further and overcome the current complex situation both locally and regionally. Reactivating the parliament is crucial for carrying out legal and fundamental tasks and addressing the multifaceted issues and challenges facing the people of Kurdistan.”

Before the Federal Court decision, the PUK strongly implied it would not participate in the upcoming elections without changes to the election law, arguing the current system favored the Kurdistan Democratic Party. Following fruitless talks with the KDP within the Kurdistan Region, the PUK turned to the Federal Court.

The elections was set to feature new parties, including the National Front, led by Ali Hama Saleh. Saleh, a former Kurdistan MP and notable opposition figure in Kurdistan, was once part of the Gorran Movement. In a Facebook post, he said, “The government of the Kurdistan Region has exhausted its legal mandate, with the parliament now dysfunctional. Without a transparent election held on time, Iraq and the international community will interact differently with the Kurdistan Region and its officials.” Saleh stressed “the historical responsibility” on those attempting to block the electoral process.

In a statement to 964media, a spokesperson for the People’s Front — former PUK Co-Leader Lahur Talabani’s new political movement — said, “The People’s Front emphasizes the importance of conducting the Kurdistan parliamentary elections within the timeframe designated by the president of the region and the [electoral] commission. We are against any delay of the Kurdistan parliamentary elections under any pretext, as we believe postponing the elections would have negative and dangerous consequences.”

Mohammad Hakim, spokesperson for the Kurdistan Justice Group, an Islamist political party, commented on the KDP’s election boycott. Hakim said, “Our political bureau needs to meet and determine our position,” adding, “Our party is committed to participating in the elections.”

The leader of the opposition New Generation Movement, Shaswar Abdulwahid, suggested that the two parties consider a stint in opposition: “We have already said that the era for them to rule again has passed. And we have noted that both are apprehensive about election outcomes—they lose if they participate, and face downfall if they abstain.”

The KDP has bemoaned the exclusion of nearly 400,000 Kurdistan Region voters—20% of those biometrically registered—due to unscanned fingerprints. It critiqued the “unjust” allocation of seats for Halabja, with only three seats. Last week, it was reported that the KDP had demanded a higher number of seats for the KRG’s smallest and newest governorate.

The party’s concerns extend to the Federal Supreme Court’s authority over electoral disputes in the Kurdistan Region, viewing the transfer of this jurisdiction to the Federal Judicial Council as a ‘dangerous encroachment’ on the region’s judicial autonomy.

The KDP reiterates its call for a return to “policies of reconciliation and balance” to ensure “an Iraq for all,” stating its continued belief in the party’s leadership role in Kurdistan.

This article has been updated

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