Supporters of the Change Movement (Gorran) wave their party's banner in their election campaign.
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – As campaigning kicked off Wednesday for parliamentary elections in the Kurdistan Region, the main opposition party in the autonomous Iraqi enclave said it is hopeful the polls will lead to a power shift from the ruling coalition.
“Governance over the past four years has been so terrible that we believe the next elections will be different and change Kurdistan’s political map,” said Aram Sheikh Muhammad, head of the election commission for the main opposition Change Movement (Gorran).
“We believe the future government will belong to the opposition, and it is with that spirit that we enter the elections,” he said ahead of the September 21 polls for the regional legislature.
“The next phase is the phase of the exchange of power,” Gorran leader Nawshirwan Mustafa told party members at their summer convention.
The polls will be the first in which the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) are running separately, instead of under a single banner. The two are odds over voter rolls, which the PUK says are inflated and contain the names of thousands of citizens who have since passed away.
Gorran, which split from the PUK in 2009 and won 25 of Kurdistan’s 111 parliament seats in polls the same year, has since posed a serious political threat to the PUK in Sulaimani province. Between them, the PUK and KDP hold the majority of seats in parliament.
Islamist opposition groups are also hopeful that the polls will change Kurdistan’s political landscape in their favor.
Abubakir Ali, a member of the Kurdistan Islamic Union party, said that anti-government demonstrations and opposition protests “didn’t really bring the needed change. Therefore, all eyes are on the elections now.
“It is our goal to enter the government with a new outlook and a new plan,” he vowed.
The Islamic League (Komal) has expressed the same sentiment, hoping to win a few more seats in parliament, as well as more government posts.
But Dilshad Garmiyani, one of Komal’s most senior leaders, has called on supporters to boycott the polls, which he says are un-Islamic.
“Islam cannot be brought to power through the ballot box,” said Garmiyani. “Nowhere in the Koran or the words of Prophet Muhammad are elections mentioned,” he said in a Facebook post.
Garmiyani, an extremist who fled Kurdistan for Iran -- and later to Sudan and Syria -- over fears of arrest by US forces following the 2003 invasion, returned eight years later. He says he has forbidden members of his clique within Komal from running or voting in the upcoming elections.