Kurdistan Region's election preparations suspended by Iraq's top court over deepening political turmoil

Kurdistan Region's election preparations suspended by Iraq's top court over deepening political turmoil
The political crisis in Iraq's Kurdistan region escalates as rival parties turn to Iraq's top court for rulings on their electoral interests.
4 min read
10 May, 2024
In February, the Iraqi Federal Supreme Court deemed the 11 quota seats in the Kurdistan Region's parliament reserved for ethnic and religious minorities unconstitutional. [Getty]

The Kurdistan Region of Iraq is mired in a complex political saga following a ruling by Iraq's top court. 

Iraq's top court has mandated a temporary halt to preparations for the Kurdistan Region's parliamentary elections, initially set for 10 June, following a lawsuit from KRG Prime Minister Masrour Barzani contesting seat distribution.

The lawsuit challenges the distribution of parliamentary seats among constituencies, alleging that the current allocation method is unconstitutional.

Barzani's legal challenge strikes at the heart of Kurdish politics, questioning the fairness and legitimacy of the electoral system. At the crux of the matter lies the allocation of parliamentary seats based on voter numbers rather than population figures, a practice Barzani argues violates the Iraqi constitution and previous Federal Supreme Court rulings. Furthermore, Barzani contends that eliminating minority seats undermines the principle of equitable representation for all of Iraq's communities, as enshrined in the constitution.

The Federal Supreme Court's decision to suspend Article 2 of the candidate registration system has profound implications for the Kurdistan parliament's composition. This article outlines the allocation of 100 parliamentary seats, with specific distributions among Sulaimaniyah, Erbil, Duhok, and Halabja. By temporarily halting the implementation of this article, the court has effectively stalled the democratic process, throwing the region's political future into uncertainty.

Jumana al-Ghalai, spokesperson for the Iraqi High Electoral Commission (IHEC), confirmed the suspension of election-related activities in response to the court's ruling. This development underscores the gravity of the situation, signalling a temporary halt in the democratic process and raising questions about the region's political stability.

The court's decision comes amid mounting tensions within the Kurdistan Region's political landscape. The ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), led by Masoud Barzani, had already declared a boycott of the elections and called for their postponement by at least three months. 

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This move was met with opposition from other political factions, including the New Generation--an opposition party in the Kurdistan region, and the Iraqi parliament-- which filed a legal case urging the court to designate the KRG as a caretaker government and dissolve it within three months. The deepening political crisis has further polarized the region's political factions, exacerbating tensions and undermining efforts to reach a consensus on the way forward.

Against this backdrop of political uncertainty, key figures from Kurdistan's leading parties are engaging in diplomatic manoeuvres on the international stage. 

Nechirvan Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Region and deputy leader of the KDP, embarked on a diplomatic mission to Tehran, where he discussed the country with Iranian officials, including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Ebrahim Raisi. 

In a press conference following his visit to Iran, Nechirvan Barzani refuted claims that he had discussed the region's elections with Iranian officials. He affirmed his commitment to holding the elections as scheduled but emphasized the importance of broad participation.

Meanwhile, Bafel Talabani, leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), visited Washington unannounced and met with U.S. officials to discuss regional developments.

The political movements within the Kurdistan Region reflect both internal strife and external pressures, with competing parties vying for influence amidst broader geopolitical dynamics. As the region grapples with uncertainty over its electoral future, the stakes remain high for its political stability and democratic aspirations.

 The coming days will likely see further twists and turns in this unfolding political drama as Kurdish leaders navigate the complexities of domestic politics and international relations in their quest to resolve the crisis.

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The last parliamentary election held in the region was in September 2018.

Elections in Iraqi Kurdistan were initially scheduled for late 2022; however, disputes between its two main parties, the KDP and the PUK, forced the assembly to extend its mandate until the end of 2023.

However, on 23 May 2023, Iraq's top court ruled against extending the term of the Kurdistan region's parliament as contrary to the country's constitution, declaring the Kurdish legislature terminated.

The court also revoked Article 9 in the region's election law, which asserted that the Kurdistan region constitutes a single electoral constituency as "unconstitutional." The court mandated the division of the region into "at least four electoral constituencies."