Kurdish Elections: The Change List

This piece first aired in July, 2009, as part of the show, “New Voices.”

Listen here.

    Host Intro: For decades two political parties have dominated Iraqi Kurdish politics: the Kurdish Democratic Party and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan – the KDP and the PUK. The two parties fought a bloody civil war in the 1990′s but more recently, they formed a coalition. Since, they’ve dominated politics – and power – in the region. But during last Saturday’s elections many Kurds expressed their dissatisfaction with the ruling KDP-PUK coalition and voted for a new opposition group. Kyle Goeckner-Wald brings us more on the Kurdish elections and the fledgling opposition movement.

    KYLE GOECKNER-WALD: After years of domination by the KDP and PUK, Iraqi Kurdish politics has a new player: The Change List, or Listi Goran in Kurdish.

    Nawshirwan Mustafa, a former PUK politician, only recently founded the Change List claiming that he was tired of corruption. Amazingly for such a new movement, Nawshirwan Mustafa’s Change List is estimated to have won a quarter of the Parliament.

    Yerevan Adham is a Kurdish Journalist currently studying politics at the University of Texas. He explains what’s motivating Change List supporters, many of whom are too young to remember Kurdistan’s turbulent past.

    YEREVAN ADHAM: The older generation has suffered a lot under the previous regimes of Iraq and also they have seen that, you know, the KDP and PUK have done actually a lot: I mean, you know, in the armed struggle they have defended the Kurdish people for decades. But you know the younger generation, they say, you know, the armed struggle is finished and there is no excuse to keep this people in the government. And what the people want is to have an apolitical government that’s run by technocratic people rather than corrupt official parties.

    KYLE GOECKNER-WALD: One such young Kurd who fits the mold of a typical Change List supporter is Rand Khalifa, a student in Sulimaniyah. He says that he supports the reformist group because he hasn’t seen any good come from the ruling KDP and PUK.

    RAND KHALIFA: We gave them a chance and tried their government and we saw that they couldn’t do much with all the money and all the power we had. If we look at Kurdistan in general we see that there hasn’t been much change since 1991, since after the revolution.

    KYLE GOECKNER-WALD: Despite sentiments like these, some Kurds still have serious doubts about Nawshirwan Mustafa and the movement he leads. Tracy Fuad is Northwestern journalism student currently visiting Kurdistan. She says that some Kurds she has spoken to are cynical about the Change List and its leader.

    TRACY FUAD: Nawshirwan Mustafa, he actually was part of the Coalition Party and he was just as bad as the rest of them. He was corrupt, you know I’ve heard all sorts of terrible things about him but he’s professed his change of heart and separated from the ruling coalition party and formed this Change List, which claims to reject all the practices of the Coalition Party.

    But the thing is, is that a lot of them are just as bad as the politicians who they’re claiming to be different from. They are them, and they just switched parties.

    KYLE GOECKNER-WALD: Official results say that Nawshirwan Mustafa’s Change List won 24 percent of the Parliament, but the group claims that it actually won much more. It is perhaps impossible to know how many votes the Change List really received because of rampant voter fraud. Tracy Fuad says that a lot of the fraud occurred in an extra unplanned hour of voting.

    TRACY FUAD: At one polling station from 8 in the morning to 6 o’clock when they were supposed to close there were 250 ballots recieved and then in the last hour which was an extended hour supposedly because of the heat there were 200 ballots counted and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that there’s no way that nearly 50 per cent of the ballots came in at the last hour when nobody would have planned on voting.

    KYLE GOECKNER-WALD: The fraud that occured on election day was not the only impropriety during the election. Because the KDP and PUK have ruled Kurdistan for so long, they control large sectors of Kurdish society and have used their control to intimidate people into voting for them. Ayub Nuri, a Kurdish reporter and former War News Radio journalist-in-residence explains:

    AYUB NURI: The two parties have been ruling this place for 18 years now and the government is their’s, all the ministries, the offices, schools, companies, are paid and run by these two parties. And the majority of the people in Kurdistan are government employees, so their salary and source of income comes from these major parties, and of course, I have no doubt that this time they have been using this influence they have over people’s lives and incomes as a source of gaining support.

    KYLE GOECKNER-WALD: Despite the KDP and PUK’s attempts to stop the emergence of the Change List, it seems that the Change List will remain a force to be contended with in Kurdish Politics. Again the journalism student Tracy Fuad.

    TRACY FUAD: For the first time the coalition parties, the PUK and KDP, they have somebody to compete with. So they can’t just sit there and do nothing because if they do nothing for the next four years, the next election, in 2015, Gorran – they won’t just take thirty seats in Parliment, they’ll win.

    KYLE GOECKNER-WALD: In a region of the world known for its uncertainty, one thing is assured; the events of July the 25th will be remembered as a crossroads in Kurdish politics. For War News Radio, this is Kyle Goeckner-Wald.