PEREGRAF- Haval Ghalib
Independent candidacy in the Kurdistan Region challenges the power of leading political parties. Confident in favorable results, some have already announced plans to unite in the Iraqi parliament to assume control over political parties for the next four years.
Twenty-one independent candidates in the three provinces of Erbil, Sulaimaniyah and Duhok are competing to win seats in the upcoming October 10 parliamentary elections.
Six candidates affiliated with the Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU) are running independently. However, they receive formal support and media campaigning from the party.
Two of the KIU candidates are current prominent parliamentarians in Iraq. Other independent candidates, most from Sulaimaniyah province, have not so far been publically supported by any party in the Kurdistan Region.
"What remains is on citizens not to vote for parties, mafias and families, because independent candidates have no leaders or officials, their officials are only citizens," said Ghalib Mohammed, an Iraqi parliamentarian and independent candidate in Sulaimaniyah.
Mohammed told PEREGRAF they expect people "to change the era where people vote for parties, because they are parties for businesses, companies and families, and their priority is making themselves rich."
The October voting led by a new electoral commission and a new law was the result of protests that erupted in 2019 in Baghdad and southern provinces demanding radical change and calling for early elections, in which thousands were killed and injured.
The new election law for the first time gives candidates the opportunity to run independently as long as they are over 28 years old with a high school or equal certificate and an agenda, in addition to the support of 500 voters.
In this election, Iraqi provinces have been divided into circles which makes up a total of 83 across the country. Mohammed says this law is a good opportunity and it is less costly for candidates to campaign.
"With the support of God and the people, we will strike them in a way they can no longer speak and tell lies on behalf of Kurds in Iraq and dismantle what they call unity," Mohammed said.
There are 14 independent candidates in Sulaimaniyah province alone, including four women and four current parliamentarians in Iraq. The province is guaranteed 18 seats divided into five circles. Five of the quota seats are for female candidates.
Some of these candidates are familiar face to the majority of the people in the Kurdistan Region because of their stance on the issues such as salaries and freedom of the press.
Ghalib Mohammed said that in the next round of parliament, they will form alliances and will be the defenders of people from northern Iraqi Kurdistan to southern Iraq.
The Kurdistan Region is guaranteed 44 out of 329 seats in the Iraqi parliament. Apart from independent candidates, dozens of other candidates of more than 10 parties and coalitions are competing for those seats.
"There is no guarantee in politics, but we are challenging the situation and there is international pressure to hold a clean election," Sanaria Abdullah, an independent candidate in Sulaimaniyah told PEREGRAF.
Relying on their abilities and people’s support, Abdullah said she hopes that they "will change these times when candidates only succeed with the support of a party," adding she refuses to join any party after she succeeds and wants to work independently.
There are four independent candidates in Erbil province that are not supported by any party, all four of whom are in circle four.
Erbil's share in the Iraqi parliament is 15 seats, four of those are for women and one is for the Christians. The province is divided into four circles.
Many of the Christians are running independently.
"I am a leftist and people support me, especially the Communist Party, but I do not belong to that party and I work independently," said Farouk Hanna Ato, Christian candidate in Erbil province.
He noted that he receives financial help from his relatives for his campaigning and all independent candidates need to succeed is people’s support. "We can't compete with the massive capability of the government," said Ato, adding that if fraud is not committed, he believes he will win and guarantee the quota seat.
The independent candidates’ fight is against the ruling parties, namely the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Kurdistan Coalition which is made up of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Change (Gorran), the three that have formed the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and are running a strong campaign.
"We have been banned from 99 percent of TV channels for the past three years, they were not publishing any of our statements, and yet we have had the most influence, we were the major opposition to the government through people and social media. This has helped us compete with government media," Sarkawt Shamsaddin, a current Iraqi parliamentarian and independent candidate in Sulaimaniyah, told PEREGRAF.
Shamsaddin reiterated that if there is no fraud, the election law is in the interest of candidates not the parties. "This election is an opportunity for candidates outside the party to test their abilities, so I think if there is no political disappointment, there is a great opportunity to prevail over party dominance within parliament and candidates."
Some of the independent candidates previously turned their backs on their parties in the Iraqi parliament and formed an alliance earlier this year called Hiwa Coalition, translating to hope, which consisted of 15 members.
"We're a group that if we went to parliament we will work together. We are two Kurdistan Justice Group party parliamentarians and three independent parliamentarians," said Shamsaddin, adding that they intend to form a coalition.
He believes he represents the opposition voice and if the unexpected doesn’t happen, and has a 90 percent chance of success.
Iraq's smallest number of independent candidates are in Duhok province; three candidates for non-quota seats, while the province's share of seats in parliament is 11 and three of them are for women, and one for the Christians.
"People are very aware and we are expecting this awareness to be put into practice," Rebwar Karim, a parliamentarian in Iraq and independent candidate in Sulaimaniyah, told PEREGRAF.
Karim explained that according to the election law votes are only for one candidate and it does not get transferred to others.
"The party's support is important, but because of the changes that have taken place, the candidate’s characteristics and what they can do when they succeed are important. We have been able to do our part without parties over the past three years, and people are looking up to individual [candidates] not the parties," he said.
"We've done enough to be able to ask people for votes," said Karim. "I believe I'm going to succeed and even my competitors don’t doubt my success."
Independent and party candidates have been campaigning for weeks, unlike in the past, social media, particularly Facebook, has become the main advertising platform and not the streets of the city.
Amanj Ahmed, an independent candidate in the Raparin administration, said the new election law is a fair way for young and independent people in districts and provinces to progress, as there are more circles and more opportunities for candidates to get votes and succeed.
"Despite the lack of media and financial ability, I have been in this process for several months and I have been welcomed well by the people," Ahmed told PEREGRAF, adding that he plans to win the most votes in his circle.
About the role and influence of individual or independent candidates in parliament, Ahmed compared the practice to football. "In recent years, Barcelona and Real Madrid's achievements have been due to Messi and Ronaldo, so the individual ability is important," he said, promising that he will focus less on talk and more on the action.
In Iraq, about 25 million people are eligible to vote, and 329 members of the fifth round of parliament are scheduled to be elected for four years next month.