Adapting to the new electoral law, the Iraqi Kurdish parties are
pursuing various strategies to preserve their political status in the
upcoming elections

Mera Jasm Bakr


As Iraq’s general elections slated for October 10th approach, the Kurdish political parties in
the Iraqi northern Kurdistan Region (KRI) and disputed areas are vigorously competing to
protect their roles as kingmakers in Baghdad. Influence at the national level, in turn (and
perhaps just as importantly), is critical to the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the
Patriotic Union of Kurdistan’s (PUK) ability to remain veto players and shape the domestic
politics of the KRI. In these elections, the parties will not only be settling political scores in
rivalries that have escalated dangerously since the 2018 elections, but they will be
contending with a transformed electoral system that will alter time-honored strategies for
mobilizing voters and dividing the spoils of victory.
The upcoming election presents to be unique in that a new electoral law featuring Single
Non-Transferable Vote (SNTV) system is implemented. While providing greater opportunities
for independent candidates to register and compete and empowering the women’s quota
with a significant amount of control over the outcome of the election, there remain serious
challenges ahead for minor parties and women to overcome the dominance of large,

well-established parties. In the KRI and areas of the disputed territories (Kirkuk, Nineveh,
Salahuddin and Diyala -provinces) they claim as part of their spheres of influence, the KDP
and PUK strive for a margin of victory in the elections that will protect their positions and
interests in Baghdad. Tied to this struggle is that between the Kurdish parties themselves,
who will use the election to compete for supremacy within the Kurdish bloc at the national
level and, by extension, to secure a favorable division of power at the regional level.
Consequently, disagreements on the distribution of posts in Baghdad, in particular Iraqi
presidency, which intensified the rivalry between the KDP and PUK after the 2018 elections,
could be reignited.
This report describes how the Kurdish political parties are adapting to and are leveraging the
new electoral law to defend their status as veto players in both Baghdad and Erbil. Through
interviews with experts, candidates, and party officials as well as analysis of secondary data,
this paper explores how the Kurdish political parties have responded to the new electoral
framework and how it changes the landscape and nature of political competition in the
Kurdistan Region. It also explores how the new law, which was ostensibly designed to
encourage the participation of independent candidates, outside of the mainstream parties
across the country, still rewards large, well-resourced and well-disciplined parties at the
expense of minor parties and marginalized groups.

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