Sunday, September 22, 2013

The KRG elections

Jim: This is a gasbag piece.  I asked C.I. to join me for a conversation on the KRG elections and persuaded her by pointing out that (a) it would up the Iraq coverage and (b) we didn't have a lot of serious topics this week.  Consider this a rush transcript.  The Kurdistan Regional Government is in northern Iraq.  It's three provinces -- Erbil, Sulaimaniya and Dahuk -- held elections on Saturday, provincial elections.  How am I doing so far?

C.I.: Perfect.  I would add, since this is a conversation, that the KRG and the central government in Baghdad both say they have a claim on Kirkuk Province -- it's disputed.

Jim: Right.  And Article 140 of the 2005 Iraqi Constitution outlined how to resolve the dispute: Hold a census and referendum.  Nouri's refused to do that, Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister of Iraq.

C.I.: Correct.  Nouri became prime minister in the spring of 2006 and the Constitution called for Article 140 to be implemented by the end of 2007.  Nouri has refused to honor the Constitution.  So Kirkuk remains disputed.

Jim: And didn't get to vote, right?  No votes in Kirkuk.

C.I.: Right and wrong.  Voting was allowed in Kirkuk in April when 12 of Iraq's provinces voted.  For example, polling stations were set up to allow Iraqi security members Nouri had sent into Kirkuk to vote since they weren't in their own provinces; however, the people of Kirkuk were not allowed to vote.

Jim: 12 provinces.  Iraq has 18.  Explain about the 12 voting.

C.I.: Only the White House exceeds the press when it comes to Nouri's fan club.  In 2010, for example, before the votes were counted, NPR called it for Nouri.  Nouri's State of Law actually came in second in that election -- even after the recount.  The press laid it on thick, in April 2012, about how popular Nouri was and other nonsense.  Nouri refused to allow Nineveh and Anbar Provinces to vote in the provincial elections.  This was where the strongest protests against Nouri were taking place --

Jim: Protests which, Friday, hit the nine month mark.

C.I.: Correct.  He at first declared it was too violent for voting.  Then it was pointed out by a number of people -- including Nineveh Governor Atheel al-Nujaifi -- that Baghdad was actually seeing more violence and they were going to vote.  So then he gave one excuse after another for not letting them vote.

Jim: Could he?

C.I.: You mean legally?  I think -- Nouri's commander in chief of the military.  I think it's debatable whether or not he has the right, in that role, to call off elections.  I would argue he doesn't, others would argue differently.  However, when he changed it to other reasons including fear of voter fraud?  No, it's no longer debatable.  He doesn't have the power to cancel elections.  He grabbed powers -- yet again -- that he didn't have.  The so-called Independent High Electoral Commission is supposed to be the only body in charge of the elections.  So why did he do it?  Because he's paranoid?  Maybe.  More than likely he wanted the good news spin.  And Nineveh Province and Anbar Province were not going to vote for his State of Law political slate.

Jim: So he holds elections in April but cuts out the two provinces he'll do poorly in to make himself look better?

C.I.: That's how it looks to me.  In July, he finally allowed the two provinces to vote.  That took us to 14 voting.  Kirkuk, again, was not allowed to vote.  That brings us to 15.  The three remaining ones are under the KRG which sets its own provincial voting schedule, being semi-autonomous.

Jim: But it will vote at the same time as the other provinces in next year's parliamentary elections.

C.I.: If they take place, the KRG will vote on the same day as everyone else.

Jim: Rudaw has the following results as we discuss the elections:

KDP 38.7 % | 726,876 
Gorran 23.26 % | 436,825 
PUK 16.84 % | 316,248 
Yekgrtu 10.1 % | 189,638 
Komall 6.52 % | 122,500 
Other 4.59 % | 86,199

Jim (Con't):  The KDP did very well.

C.I.: The Kurdistan Democratic Party, headed by KRG President Massoud Barzani, did very well.  They won the most votes.  That said, Gorran's placing was also very good.  They didn't exist prior to the 2003-invasion.  It's amazing what CIA-seed money can do.

Jim: Gorran did do very good.  What's their other name?

C.I.: Change.  Percentage wise, right now, they're actually 2% less than in the 2009 elections; however, in that election KDP and PUK ran together as the Kurdistani list.  By failing to do so this go round, the PUK allowed their own weakness to be exposed.

Jim: Right.  But to me the more interesting thing was the KDP's success.

C.I.: Why is that?

Jim: The press has said repeatedly that Massoud Barzani has overstepped his bounds, that he's unpopular, etc.  And you've argued differently for two years now.  If you were wrong, KDP wouldn't be in the lead.

C.I.: I don't know where the nonsense on Barzani got started.  He's very popular.  The press has always insisted that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani is popular. He's also a Kurd -- like Barzani -- and he heads what had been the other dominant party, the Patriotic Union Kurdistan.

Jim: That's right.  Going into this election, it was a two party race.  The PUK and the KDP were the dominant political parties in the KRG -- like the Democrats and the Republicans in the US.  With the results of Saturday's elections, that has now changed.

C.I.: Right.  Gorran is now one of the two dominant parties.

Jim: But back to Barzani.  The press, Joel Wing and so many others kept insisting that Barzani was passe, over, loathed, etc.  But his party got the most votes.

C.I.: Well, first of all, he's the head of the party.  Voters voted for the party.  I don't know that you can extrapolate that he's very popular just from the results of this election.  But I do think that if he was as unpopular as many in the press have tried to pretend.  If he were, I would argue, he would have dragged the KDP down and they would not have won the most votes.

Jim: Why is he popular?

C.I.: He's emerged as the Kurdish leader on the world stage. This happened as he stood up to Nouri.  In doing so, he surpassed Jalal Talabani and became a hero to the Kurdish community -- the community beyond just Iraq.  And Talabani?  He's not even in the KRG or Iraq.

Jim:  You usually note, "Last December,  Iraqi President Jalal Talabani suffered a stroke.   The incident took place late on December 17th (see the December 18th snapshot) and resulted in Jalal being admitted to Baghdad's Medical Center Hospital.    Thursday, December 20th, he was moved to Germany.  He remains in Germany currently."

C.I.: Right.

Jim: I want to talk about that but first you wrote about the KRG elections last night and included two photos.  Why these two photos?



C.I.: The first photo is of a polling station and a poll worker is helping a man with his vote.  The second photo is KRG Prime Minister  Nechervan Barzani and his wife Nabila Barzani voting in Erbil.  Why those two photos as opposed to others?  Iraq's become very repressive for women.  That's less so in the KRG.  So anytime we've got the chance to promote women, I'm going to.  Look at the way they're dressed, the women, nothing wrong with it and they are striking women.  In the KRG, women can dress as they did before the invasion.  That's not true in many parts of Iraq.

Jim: Well then I am especially glad we are running them with this article.  What's the deal with Talabani?

C.I.: I'm sorry.  What are you asking?

Jim: What's his health.

C.I.: Talk of his death is supposed to be premature.  But talk of his recovery is inflated as well.  Now that the PUK has done so poorly, there will probably be efforts to demand Talabani return to Iraq or step down.

Jim: He's been out of the country for nine months.

C.I.: Some will argue the position is ceremonial.  Who cares?  It's a position and you're either there or you're not.  Equally true, the position comes with the power to prevent legislation from passing.  If Jalal can't return to Iraq in the immediate future, the calls for him to be replaced -- which picked up over the summer -- will only grow louder.

Jim: He blew off meeting someone in April, right?

C.I.: Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi was attempting to visit him in Germany, in the hospital and he was told no.  Only in the last weeks has al-Nujaifi gone public with that story.  I think it's having the effect of making more and more people wonder just how unhealthy Talabani is.

Jim: The KRG has always been billed as the peaceful part of Iraq.  And maybe that's why they've had time to build up a working website?  I mean, you don't have to read Arabic or Kurdish, they have an English option.  It makes it a lot easier to follow events at a time when the coverage of Iraq has vanished.

C.I.: We're talking about the KRG and the elections they held yesterday -- early voting, for security forces, was Thursday -- and I'd like to point out that the US State Department has still not issued a statement.

Jim: And they're in charge of the US mission in Iraq now.

C.I.: Correct.

Jim: Another reason I'm glad we took time to note the elections then. 

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