Kurds may lose thousands of votes in disputed areas

Narin Rosatm, Erbil The Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) in Iraq has said that it will not provide any ballot boxes outside Kirkuk and Salahadden provinces for the voters who have left the provinces due to the October 16, 2017 developments putting thousands of Kurdish votes near waste. Tens of thousands of Kurdish families especially from Kirkuk, Tuz Khurmatu and the Nineveh plane left home towards Kurdistan Region due to the October developments; although many families have returned home, yet thousands of voters fear to go home or as the highway between Erbil and Kirkuk is still closed. It is likely that they will not return until May 12, 2018 the Election Day.

“Relevant authorities should endeavor to open a polling station in Erbil for those why left their home on October 16.”
Nabaz Bapeer, 32, and his sister Bafreen, now based in Erbil, are among the families that haven not returned to Kirkuk; meanwhile, they do not want to be deprived from their right to vote, so they have obtained their voting cards, "we can't return to Kirkuk as we can't put our family members' life in danger," said Nabaz Bapeer to KirkukNow. "The relevant parties should try to open polling stations for the October16th displaced people," Bafreen told KirkukNow. Those who fled home in the aftermath of the Iraqi federal forces’ return to the disputed areas are not recognized by the Iraqi government as internally displaced people; as a result the election commission is not required to open polling stations outside Kirkuk; The number of those left home estimated to be up to 148 thousands, according to a statistic released by the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) ministry of interior, and they say the “existence of ISIS's hidden cells" is the main reason for not going back home. "Until now the majority of the displaced families are here (Kurdistan Region) and they are unable to return" said Kareem Sinjari , KRG's interior minister (Senior member of Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP)) in a joint press conference with representatives from the United Nations, international organizations and donor countries. Based on an in-depth follow-up by KirkukNow, the majority of those who refuse to return home are members and supporters of KDP or have been affiliates of the party's security agencies. Previously, the KDP decided in mid-January this year to boycott the elections in Kirkuk justifying the decision by the current situation of the disputed areas which have been transformed to “military camps", according to a statement by the party.
Kirkuk, 2017. Referendum process, and voters are looking for their names in a voting center. Photo: Karwan Salihi
"Kirkuk is under military occupation and it is unstable, so elections can't be held in such situation" said Adnan Kirkuki member of the KDP's Kirkuk- Garmian leadership council to KirkukNow. Tariq Mawlood, 74, a retired brigadier in KRG's ministry of peshmarga based in Erbil, is yet to return to Kirkuk because of the province's political circumstances after October 16, 2017. "We left Kirkuk without being asked by anyone. Now we are asked to return for the sake of the elections. I am not going back to Kirkuk for the polls" he told KirukNow.
“"We left Kirkuk without being asked by anyone; now we’re asked to return for the sake of elections.”
Jutiyar Abbas, a KDP affiliated Peshmarga who was based in Altun Kupri (Prde), says he voted in every past elections but he is not ready to do the same this time since he is not obliged to return to Kirkuk. Meanwhile, transportation might be another concern for those residents not to return; the highway between Erbil and Kirkuk is yet blocked since October 2017; for those who wish to return to Kirkuk and take part in the polls next month, they must take an alternative crowded road (two hours and a half drive) An IHEC official has told KirkukNow that they reject opening polling stations for voters outside Kirkuk province except for those who are officially considered to be IDPs. “It isn’t our responsibility to take ballot boxes to the voters to cast their ballots, it is the voters' duty to return to their cities and vote" said Saeed Kakaei member of IHEC's commissioners' council. KDP which secured 63 thousand votes in the last parliamentary elections in Kirkuk is determined to boycott the upcoming elections in Kirkuk, claiming that Kirkuk is “unsafe". Nawzad Abdullah, 44, who works in a paint shop in Erbil, said "Kirkuk is occupied and sold out; what is the benefit of voting? I am thinking about earning some money for my family on the Election Day".
Erbil, 2018. Two Kirkuk’s refugees are demanding to bring the refugees ballot boxes to Erbil because they cannot go back to Kirkuk. Photo: Narin Rostam
The KDP's mainstream media and grassroots' rhetoric is not the only Kurdish narrative for the situation. According to Rawand Mala Mahmood, deputy head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan –PUK's office in Kirkuk who spoke to KirkukNow, “there isn’t threat on the voters' lives and they can return for the polls”. Mahmood's party, the long-time rival of KDP, won 209 thousands votes in the previous parliamentary elections in Kirkuk constituency and has stressed the significance of voting, “what is heard now is KDP's propaganda to inflict fear amongst voters and refraining them from the polls; no one is under threat and the door is open for the displaced people to return," he told KirkukNow. "KRG can agree with Baghdad on re-opening the airports; so why it can't agree with them for the opening of Prde (the highway between Kirkuk and Erbil) as well?" he asked. Apart from the families who left after October 16, tens of thousands of other Kurdish families from Kirkuk have to return to the province for voting because they are residing in Kurdistan Region as a result of intensive systematic demographic changes by the previous Iraqi regimes before 2003. An estimated 40 thousand Kurdish voters are now living outside Kirkuk province with the majority of them based in Erbil, according to a few unofficial estimates given to KirkukNow by Kurdish parties' election offices. Meanwhile, The Kurdish political parties in Kirkuk except KDP hold a meeting on April 12 in which they demanded the election commission to send ballot boxes to other places of Kurdistan Region to allow thousands of voters participate in the polls. The developments were a warning for the Kurdish politicians as they feel the consequences of such deprivation on their representative map after the May 12 elections. "Kurds will lose 10 seats in the disputed areas compared to the past elections and the reason is the October 16 events" said Fuad Hussein, the chief of staff of Kurdistan Region's Presidency in a speech at the Post ISIS Kurdistan Conference which was held in Paris, France on March 23.

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