International

Voting begins to elect new parliament in Iraq's Kurdistan

Voting began Sunday across Iraq's Kurdistan for a new parliament in the autonomous region which is mired in an economic crisis a year after an independence referendum that infuriated Baghdad.

An Iraqi Kurdish man shows his ink-stained index finger after casting his ballot for the parliamentary election at a polling station in Arbil
An Iraqi Kurdish man shows his ink-stained index finger after casting his ballot for the parliamentary election at a polling station in Arbil (AFP)

Voting began Sunday across Iraq's Kurdistan for a new parliament in the autonomous region which is mired in an economic crisis a year after an independence referendum that infuriated Baghdad.

More than 3.1 million voters are eligible to cast ballots across three provinces in the northern region where 673 candidates from 29 political movements are vying for seats the 111-member parliament.

Eleven of the seats are however reserved for religious and ethnic minorities: five to Turkmen candidates, five to Christians and one to the Armenian community.

A massive yes vote in the September 2017 referendum for independence, deemed illegal by the Baghdad federal government, backfired on the autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq.

Baghdad imposed economic penalties and sent federal troops to push Kurdish forces out of oil fields vital for the region's economy, depriving it of a key lifeline.

Regional president Massud Barzani, who had dominated the region since the ouster of Saddam Hussein and was the driving force behind the plebiscite, stepped down in November.

Sunday's election sees the parties that have long held sway set to come out on top yet again.

The outgoing parliament is dominated by Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party -- as is the government -- and currently holds 38 seats in the assembly, while its traditional rival, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), has 18.

The main opposition Goran (Kurdish for "change") party has 24 seats in the outgoing parliament.

There is only one new political party competing -- the New Generation movement, founded in 2018 to channel public anger at the region's elite.

The election is not expected to change the political map in Kurdistan, according to experts, but could shed light on the divisions that emerged after the September 2017 independence referendum.