Coalition Partner in Kurdistan Says it will Run Independently in Next Polls

2.4.2013 – RUDAW – ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), which runs Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan Region together with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), says it will run independently of its coalition partner in the next local polls, which were indefinitely postponed last September. 

The three-province enclave also will not take part in the April 20 local elections to be held in 12 of Iraq’s 18 provinces. “The PUK’s politburo has met and decided to run independently,” said Fareed Assasard, a member of the party’s leadership council.

In the last legislative elections in 2009, the KDP and PUK ran under a single banner and swept the majority of votes.  But the PUK was stung by the breakaway Change Movement (Gorran), which walked off with a handsome 25 places in the 111-seat regional parliament. It became the main opposition to the KDP-PUK coalition.

PUK cadres say their party’s decision to run separately is aimed at winning back votes that they think were lost to Gorran because of the PUK’s alliances, including with its main ally inside the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). “We do not know whether or not we can get those votes back.  We will leave that up to the elections,” Assasard said.

Iraq’s large minority Kurds gained autonomy following the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein. While the rest of Iraq still reels under the sectarian and ethnic violence unleashed by that upheaval, the Kurds have enjoyed relative calm in their autonomous region.

But the predominantly Sunni Muslim Kurds’ ties with the Shiite-led government in Baghdad remain potentially explosive, over control of energy reserves and Kurdish aspirations of independence from majority-Arab Iraq. The PUK is also facing one of the biggest challenges of its decades-long existence: Its founder and leader Jalal Talabani, an ethnic Kurd and also Iraq’s president, is in a hospital in Germany since suffering a serious stroke more than three months ago.  Muhammed Rauf, the head of the opposition Kurdistan Islamic Union’s (KIU) ruling council, said that his party considers the PUK’s decision “a positive move.” “If the PUK runs independently, it logically should get many of its votes back from Gorran,” he said, adding that the elections will provide a truthful measure of Gorran’s real popularity. Rauf said that, behind the scenes, there are serious efforts to reunite the PUK and Gorran.

 “Many Gorran members did not believe that PUK-Gorran relations will improve to the level they are at now.  Will they form an alliance? That is not impossible,” he said. Rauf said that at the next polls, the KDP is expected to sweep the majority of votes in the Badinan region, where his own KIU will probably come second. He said that Erbil would be the wild card in the next polls. “Erbil is the city of surprises. No one can predict the results there!” Rauf dismissed expectations that rivals Gorran and PUK will target each other with malicious election campaigns in Sulaimani province, which both parties claim as strongholds.  “I don’t think there will be any malicious exchanges. Gorran has already publicized whatever it knows about PUK. What else can they say in the election campaigns?” Asked whether the KIU, a partner in an early government, could return to join the political mainstream after the elections, Rauf said that, “KIU does not have to remain in opposition. After the elections the alliances may change, and the ruling parties may change too.”