Kurdish coalition wins majority; foes make gains

By Yahya Barzanji
Associated Press / July 30, 2009

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ERBIL, Iraq - Kurdish President Massoud Barzani’s ruling party and its coalition partner in Iraq’s Kurdish region won a majority in weekend elections, while the opposition, tapping into voter frustrations, made strong gains, according to election results released yesterday.

Iraq’s election commission said the two ruling parties - Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party and Iraqi Vice President Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan - took a solid majority of the votes. But it said the opposition party called Gorran, Kurdish for “Change,’’ made significant gains in the polls, which were for the regional president and 111-seat parliament.

Barzani received 69.57 percent of the vote for president, while Change candidate Kamal Mirawdeli received 25 percent, the commission said. Barzani’s ruling coalition received 57.34 percent of the vote for Parliament seats, with Change taking 23.75 percent, it said.

The commission said 78 percent of 2.5 million eligible voters cast ballots during Saturday’s elections. The high turnout appeared to reflect voter frustration with allegations of corruption within the ruling coalition, nepotism, media intimidation, and heavy-handed behavior by private security details.

The Change party is among a group of new political parties that have been trying to break the hold of religious parties and other traditional political groups by tapping into such frustration.

That trend was evident in the Jan. 31 provincial elections, when Iraq’s religious parties lost seats throughout the country.

Though the three provinces that make up the Kurdish north have remained largely violence-free, American military commanders have said friction between Arabs and Kurds is the greatest threat to security in the country.

The Kurds have been locked in a bitter dispute with Iraq’s central government over control of oil and land, particularly the city of Kirkuk. Separatist sentiment is high in Kurdistan, which gained limited autonomy after rising up against former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in 1991.