ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Campaigning kicked off just after midnight on Tuesday in the Kurdistan Region parliament election campaign slated for September 30.
Over 700 candidates are vying for spots in the 111-seat chamber where 11 seats are reserved for Turkmen and Christian minorities and 30 percent must be filled by women.
The campaign had a hesitant start, delayed by a week amid reports that some parties wanted to postpone the vote that is already taking place 11 months late.
Some candidates delayed creating campaign materials, fearing the process may be put off again.
European allies told Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani they are “happy” the election is going ahead as scheduled.
A group of consuls and representatives from European nations in the Kurdistan Region met with Barzani on Tuesday and “emphasized the European Union’s support for the political process, elections, and development of democratic life in the Kurdistan Region,” read a statement from the KRG.
Head of the EU Liaison Office in Erbil Clarisse Pasztory, in a tweet, said they had an “excellent” discussion on the elections and the “need for legitimate & functioning KRG institutions as our partners.”
The KRG has invited international monitors to observe the vote.
The election comes after difficult years in the Kurdistan Region, wracked by financial woes and unpopular austerity measures, war against ISIS, and struggles to rebuild relations with Baghdad that were shattered after the historic vote for independence.
Komal, which has six seats and had taken on an opposition role in the outgoing parliament, pledged to “seriously monitor the government and its activities,” Soran Omer, head of the party’s list, said in a video statement.
Campaigning under the slogan ‘We don’t give up,’ Omer told voters Komal will “constantly defend your rights as we did in the past.”
The PUK is focusing its campaign on improving government services and standards of living.
“Every day, I hear from people that they are fed up with political and social instability. They are worried that unemployment and poverty have increased, especially among the youth despite the fact that our region is rich. They expect better services,” party list leader Qubad Talabani said in his own video message.
As deputy prime minister of the outgoing government, Talabani has spearheaded the KRG’s reform initiatives aimed at increasing accessibility and accountability.
“This election is an opportunity to guarantee a Kurdistan that will be a worthwhile place for you to live,” he said.
The PUK, which has 18 seats in the outgoing parliament, will launch its campaign with a rally Tuesday at 4pm in Raniya, a PUK heartland and epicenter of the Kurdish uprising against the Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein.
The KDP, which dominates the current government with 38 seats, highlighted its record in its initial campaign message and began looking towards the future.
“The hard days are ending and we are entering a new phase,” the party said, adding it has a “multidimensional agenda” that looks at reforms, jobs, infrastructure, social justice, and equal opportunities.
KDP will hold its first rally late Monday afternoon in Erbil, attended by Masoud Barzani and all 100 of their candidates.
Gorran, whose 24 MPs left the KRG’s coalition government over a dispute with the KDP and established itself as the opposition to them, said this election is an opportunity to hold the political elite to account.
“It is time to respond, through voting, to those who have imposed famine, hardship, and injustice on this nation for 27 years. We need your votes to continue fighting suppression, corruption, and injustice,” Ali Hama Saleh, Gorran’s list leader, said in a video message.
Resolving the salary and pension crises, developing the economy, and creating jobs are key planks in Gorran’s platform.
The KIU’s Sherko Jawdat is heading the election bid of the ‘Toward Reform’ list, an alliance with the Islamic Movement.
He dubbed their campaign a “civil and democratic retaliation campaign of the oppressed against the oppressors,” in comments to Speda TV on Monday.
They hope to appeal to people who are disappointed in the current government and pledged a professional and ethical campaign.
After record low turnout of just 44.5 percent in Iraq’s recent parliamentary election, Jawdat urged people to get out and vote.
“Bigger turnout means less rigging. This is a national duty and we all have to feel responsible for it,” he said.
Campaigning will end on September 28 and voters will go to the polls on the 30th.
The KRG’s election commission ruled out using the electronic voting machines that created chaos in the Iraqi elections.
Updated at 1:18 pm