Voters in Iraqi Kurdistan are going to the polls in an election that pits the region's main two factions against each other for the first time in more than two decades. Security forces began voting earlier in the week.
A total of 1,129 candidates, including 166 women, are running Saturday for parliament's 111 seats, 30 percent of which are reserved for women. The parliament reserves 11 more for members of the autonomous region's religious and ethnic minorities, including Yezidis, Turkmen, and Assyrian and Chaldean Christians.
For the first time since 1992, Kurdistan's two main factions, regional President Massoud Barzani's Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) - projected to win the plurality of the seats - and Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), have competed against each other. A third contender, the Gorran Movement founded in 2009 by Nawshirwan Mustafa, also hopes to make a strong showing in the polls. Two smaller Islamic parties - the Kurdistan Islamic Union and the Islamic League - are hoping to make gains as well.
In the 2005 and 2009 elections, the KDP and PUK ran on a joint list. They have also rotated the region's premiership on a two-year basis. That agreement, too, has now ended.
In contrast to that monopoly, Gorran, or Change, has campaigned against what members call the two main parties' maladministration and corruption. The Gorran Movement won 25 of 111 seats in the 2009 parliament, compared to 30 for the KDP and 29 for the PUK. The newer party poses more of a threat to the latter, appealing to the faction's more urban constituency at a time when its leader, Talabani - the federal president of Iraq - lies gravely ill in a German hospital after a stroke.
More than 2.8 million citizens have registered to vote in 1,401 election centers and 6,720 polling stations in the autonomous region in northern Iraq.
mkg/dr (AFP, dpa)