Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region votes in early elections

Sceptical that the vote will bring about change, once-loyal Kurdish voters stay away from the polls

Nechirvan Barzani shows his ink-stained finger after voting in Erbil. Reuters
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Iraq’s Kurdish autonomous region was not immune from chronically low turnout which appeared to blight the country’s early elections on Sunday.

The autonomous region's President Nechirvan Barzani was the first to note, kicking off election day in the Kurdish region.

“I hope everyone will execute their legal and democratic rights and go to the polls across Iraq,” he said.

Despite the two main Kurdish parties — the KDP and PUK — having loyal support bases, many said they had stayed away from voting, mirroring the picture across the country.

Officials at one polling station in Erbil, the Ashtar school in the suburb of Ainkawa, told The National shortly after voting stopped that just 31 per cent of voters legible to cast votes there had showed up.

In Erbil, there were signs that despite the low turnout, the more established parties were faring better than in nearby Mosul, where scores of independent candidates stood for election.

Ani Habib, 33, a shop owner in Ainkawa, said that he had voted for one of the KRG’s established parties, but that he had only voted out of fear his vote might be stolen.

“If I don’t go myself, they’ll do it on my behalf, they’ll do it for me,” he told The National.

“I know it’s not going to change anything. People just don’t trust them any more. Every time they say they’ll do something, they don’t deliver.”

64-year-old Louis Youssef, originally from Shaqlawa voted in Erbil similarly cast his vote without expecting it to have any meaningful impact.

“We’d all love to see some change. Here is better than in Baghdad. Here it’s safer, in Baghdad they have only lies,” he said.

As elsewhere across the country, it appeared that many young people had stayed away from voting. Viyan Shakir, 21 a student from Erbil, struggled to think of a single friend who she knew had voted.

“Some of my friends have taken the day off work and gone to the mountains, but I don’t know anyone my age who has voted,” she said.

“I never even considered voting. I knew long ago I could not support any of the parties and even the independent candidates are just working in a broken system — even if they get elected, the system will just break them too.”

Hoshyar Zebari, a senior Kurdish official and former Foreign Minister acknowledged the poor showing in a tweet: “The turnout is reasonable, not perfect,” he said.

Updated: October 10, 2021, 5:54 PM