Wed, Jul 29, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Ruling parties appear to lead in Iraqi Kurdistan vote

REUTERS , ARBIL, IRAQ

Powerful Kurdish ruling parties appeared to fend off a surprisingly strong opposition challenge in Saturday’s elections in Iraqi Kurdistan, locked in a bitter feud with Baghdad authorities over land and oil.

Unofficial reports showed Kurdish President Masoud Barzani won 70 percent of the presidential vote in the largely autonomous northern region, said Fouad Hussein, a senior official in Barzani’s office.

He said the two-party ruling alliance — Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd — received 60 percent of votes for the next 111-member Kurdish parliament.

Official preliminary results had been expected late on Monday, but electoral officials postponed the announcement.

Underlying the election are larger questions about whether Kurds, who make up a fifth of Iraqis, can repair deeply strained ties with Iraqi leaders in Baghdad as Kurds assert rights to the oil-producing Kirkuk region and other disputed areas lying outside current borders of their relatively peaceful enclave.

The government of Shiite Arab Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who is not on speaking terms with Barzani, has praised the vote as democratic. Turnout was close to 80 percent.

Fadhel Omar, a spokesman for the ruling party list, said he expected the two parties to get 63 seats, based on unofficial results not including early voting by soldiers.

“We are happy the election process has concluded successfully,” he said.

But even senior officials from the joint list acknowledged they were surprised by the strong showing from opposition parties that have made political reform their central message, especially around PUK stronghold Sulaimaniya.

The Change list, headed by former PUK official Noshirwan Mustafa, is expecting between 27 and 30 parliamentary seats, said Abdil Mamand, a Change official in Arbil.

Shaho Said, another Change official, claimed the list came in first place in Sulaimaniya and second across Kurdistan.

Reform and Services, another opposition group, said it expected to get 14 to 17 seats in parliament.

Such results could mark a turning point for Kurdistan, where alternatives to the two powerful parties have been scant and where critics complain of a lack of transparency and security force abuses.

Mamand, like other opposition officials, said the vote was marred by irregularities, such as voting by people without proper IDs.

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