The autonomous Kurdistan Region in northern Iraq could see an important political turning point after Saturday’s elections for the regional legislature — but not necessarily a democratic one.
Before the international community and in the region Kurds and Kurdish leaders are especially proud – and quick to brag – that elections in the Kurdistan Region are free and fair.
The vote may be truly free: Everyone is free to run, to say whatever they want and vote for whoever they want. But this is not enough, and far from fair.
An absence of laws that regulate political activities in Kurdistan and in Iraq prevents any party outside the current political spectrum from stepping into parliament. It also allows the entrenched large parties to do or say as they please.
During campaigning and the elections themselves their respect for rules and regulations set out by the electoral commission becomes a matter of goodwill, an act of philanthropy. That is because there is no strong rule of law that makes it illegal for people in government to abuse their positions or powers.
In the absence of a regulatory framework, government officials have been free to campaign during office hours and use government facilities without any questions or objections from the election regulators. The regulators themselves have historically been weak to enforce regulations, because have mostly been political appointees.
Another thing that makes the elections unfair is the non-existence of a population census providing a clear picture of voter data, or the work of the electoral bodies regulating the vote.
In short, despite “free and fair elections” the powerful will remain strong and the weak will remain weak. The few seats that will change in the final count are unlikely to affect the big political picture of Kurdistan.
Analysts are guessing how many seats each party will win, but none of their guesses is big enough to change the picture drastically.
Hogar Chato, a leading elections expert in Kurdistan, estimates that around 40 per cent of the electorate remains undecided in this election: They have not decided if they will vote, and if they do go to the polls, they are undecided over who they will vote for.
In a place where elections are free and fair, every political party should be trying to attract this huge percentage of undecided voters with innovative policies that tackle real issues, instead of being stuck in the past.
But in Kurdistan, these 40 percent seem unimportant, unless they decide to change things with their votes!