All Change on Iraqi Kurdish Political Scene

By Laith Hammoudi of IWPR. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

For decades, just two parties have dominated the Iraqi Kurdish political scene – the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). That division of power suffered an abrupt upset in September, when the election to Iraqi Kurdistan’s regional parliament was won by the KDP, but second place was taken not by the PUK but by a relative newcomer, the Movement for Change.

The movement was established in 2009 by defectors from the PUK who were led by that party’s previous number two, Nawshirwan Mustafa. They split from the PUK over political differences.

In the September election, the Movement for Change took 24 of the 111 seats in the Iraqi Kurdish parliament, more than the PUK’s 18 and only 14 behind the KDP.

It was not that the movement made great gains; in fact it ended up with one seat less than it got after the last election, held in 2009. The difference was that the PUK and KDP ran as a coalition last time, and when they competed separately this year, the PUK lost 11 of the 29 seats it previously held, relegating it to third place.

The Movement for Change owes much of its success to the fact it is new, and hence untainted by the failures that inevitably come with wielding power over many years. In the last parliament, it operated as the opposition to the KDP-PUK alliance.

As its leader in parliament, Yousif Mohammed, put it, “Our popularity is growing because we have not had a hand in the government’s mistakes.”

Now it is in a position to bargain for more power, since the KDP does not have a simple majority in the regional parliament.

“The formation of a new government hasn’t started yet, and we have not yet lobbied to get one of the top three posts,” Mohammad said.

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