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Barzani Party Tops Iraq Kurd Vote Despite Failed Independence Bid

Iraq -- A woman walks past a Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) campaign poster for Iraq's parliamentary elections in Sulaimaniya, April 28, 2014
Arbil , Iraq, Oct 21, 2018 (AFP)

The dominant party in Iraq's Kurdistan has secured the most seats in the autonomous region's parliament, despite its leader Massud Barzani having championed an ill-fated independence referendum last year, the local electoral commission said Sunday.

Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) won 45 of 111 seats in the September 30 elections, up from 38 at the last polls in 2013, according to final results announced by the commission.

Barzani was the key backer of Kurdistan's independence vote in September 2017 that was deemed illegal by Iraq's central government and saw Baghdad impose economic penalties and retake disputed territory.

The KDP's main rivals, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), likewise made gains and will see 21 of its lawmakers enter parliament, up from 18.

The leaders of the region's top two political parties also took their rivalry to Baghdad, contesting the honorary role of Iraqi president.

The PUK's candidate Barham Saleh won that race, maintaining a tacit accord between the two parties which sees the PUK take the federal presidency while the KDP holds the Kurdistan presidency.

However, the Iraqi Kurdish presidency has been left vacant since Barzani stepped down following the failed independence referendum.

But he still has clout in Iraq, with the KDP winning 25 seats in nationwide parliamentary elections in May.

"Now that he is the great heavyweight of Kurdish politics, no-one can do without him in Baghdad," said Adel Bakawan, a research associate at the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences in Paris (EHESS).

"He lost the gamble of the referendum, but the legislative (elections) in May were a tremendous moment of grace; he was courted by the Americans and the Iranians," said Bakawan in reference to the two key powerbrokers in Iraq.

- New Kurdistan movement -

In Kurdistan's parliamentary vote, the main opposition Goran (Change) party lost half of its seats and was left with 12 lawmakers.

Observers have put Goran's losses down to the arrival of another group standing in opposition to the KDP and PUK heavyweights.

The New Generation movement, founded this year to channel public anger at the region's elite, won eight seats in the September 30 poll.

The results mean the KDP could theoretically have the parliamentary majority without having to form an alliance with its political rivals, instead gaining the backing of minority lawmakers.

The appointment of a new president to replace Barzani has been on hold, pending the drafting of a new Kurdish constitution for which no timetable has been set.

Goran and numerous Islamist parties have said they will reject the results of the vote, which saw a 57 percent turnout according to official figures.

The ethnic and religious minorities of Kurdistan's three provinces in northern Iraq -- which have been autonomous since 1991 -- are reserved 11 seats in parliament.

Five each go to Turkmen and Christian candidates, with one for the Armenian community.

The remainder of the seats were won by smaller, mainly Islamist parties.