On May 12, Iraq held a remarkably successful and violence-free national election. A coalition of Shiite Islamists and communists led by Moqtada al-Sadr, running on a reform agenda, won the largest number of seats in the new parliament. Sitting Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s coalition placed third. While the results have generated considerable optimism, allegations of widespread electoral fraud have also emerged in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region and Kirkuk. There have been numerous calls to address and investigate these claims, including from the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI). In these areas, results favored two long-dominant parties, the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). New parties and challengers widely expected to do well did not. These opposition parties claim to have faced systematic vote rigging. Combined with the low turnout, their disputes could cast doubts on the legitimacy of the election, with serious ramifications.
A fiscal crisis, allegations of corruption and nepotism and the fallout from last September’s independence referendum, including the loss of Kirkuk, were all expected to cost the region’s two dominant parties votes. Instead, the two parties more or less maintained their number of seats, as the KDP kept all of its 25 seats in the national parliament and the PUK lost only three, dropping from 21 to 18.
Opposition parties — which had been expected to do well — fared relatively poorly. Former senior PUK official Barham Salih’s new Coalition for Democracy and Justice (CDJ) won only two seats. Gorran, a still-popular opposition party founded in 2009, lost four seats, dropping from nine to five. The opposition Kurdistan Islamic Group lost one. New Generation (NG), a new protest party aligned with the PKK, received four.