On the morning of July 30, 2018, hundreds of Assyrians gathered outside the Iraqi Kurdistan Parliament in Erbil, Iraq to demand an end to the Kurdistan Democratic Party's (KDP) interference in the quota elections for Assyrian representatives. Protestors called for an amendment to the election law within the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) specifying that (1) voting for minority quota seats be exclusive to voters of a minority background and (2) minority elections to be held separately from general elections. Iraqi Kurdistan parliamentary elections are scheduled for September 27, 2018.
The protest was planned in response to the KRG's refusal to amend the election law to meet these demands. According to Assyrian representatives, the KDP blocked the motion for the proposed amendment in parliament from even being raised earlier this month.
The official protest statement addressed to the KRG Parliament (translated from Arabic) read:
“The extent of the injustice and marginalization of the Chaldean Assyrian Syriac component in the elections in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq in past sessions, and in the recent elections for the Iraqi Council of Representatives that took place in May, as a result of the exploitation of the legitimate seats for parties and blocs, namely the Kurdistan Democratic Party bloc and the Shia Fatah list due to loopholes in the law related to the reserved seats for minority components...In the [Kurdistan] region specifically, these practices are conducted by the Kurdistan Democratic Party bloc, with the behavior of other blocs the same methodology in the upcoming parliamentary elections, including Gorran.” See the full statement here.
Currently, seven of the eleven minority quota representatives are affiliated with the KDP. Two of the five seats reserved for Assyrians are individuals affiliated to the KDP.
In the 1992 Iraqi Kurdistan parliamentary elections, there were separate ballot boxes for Assyrians voting in the quota. No elections were then held in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq for thirteen years, until 2005, at which point the special elections were removed.
The KDP’s interference in the KRG minority quota allocations and the Christian quota elections in the Iraqi Parliament is well-documented. The KDP creates and support proxy parties (via media, financial and other means) to rival independent Assyrian parties in opposition to the KDP and its policies. This is compounded by thousands of votes cast from Iraqi Kurdish citizens reflecting a broader electoral injustice. Other major concerns that have directly impacted the outcome of past elections include a lack of fair and equal access to the media given its bias; intimidation of non-KDP candidates and their supporters; draconian practices that restrict free speech; and the partisanship of the Peshmerga and Asayish which have created a menacing atmosphere for Assyrian voters in areas under KRG authority. In past elections, the KDP has blocked the delivery of ballot boxes to Assyrian towns, denying hundreds of thousands of Assyrians the right to vote. These factors have prevented successive elections from being genuine, free, or fair, and there is no reason to believe the upcoming election will be any different.
Four of the five Christian representatives announced as winners in the 2018 Iraqi Parliamentary elections earlier this year are members of proxy parties affiliated with the KDP and the Badr Organization.
On May 19, 2018, Hewin Hawrami, Head of KDP Foreign Relations and Senior Assistant to former KRG President Masoud Barzani, tweeted: "KDP as the only multi religious party in Kurdistan, mobilized the Christian members & succeeded in wining [sic] 2 out of 5 seats of the Christian quota. In total KDP now has 28.”
In his tweet, Hawrami asserts that the KDP won 28 seats, a number that includes the two seats won by the KDP-created Chaldean Syriac Assyrian Popular Council (also known as Majlis Sha'bi) and the KDP-backed Chaldean Alliance. Hawrami was recently announced as the head of the KDP's list for the upcoming KRG elections.
“The will of these [minority] communities is always undermined in the elections and result in illegitimate representation due to votes from citizens outside these components in an attempt by major parties to acquire the reserved seats for their parties and blocs,” the protest statement read.
The KDP's open mobilization of Kurdish voters to participate in the 2018 Iraqi parliamentary Christian quota elections was reflected in the voter turnout. Areas with diverse populations showed an egregious discrepancy between the number of votes cast and the number of Assyrian inhabitants.
For example, the total population of Assyrians in Kirkuk (including the Chaldean and Syriac religious denominations) is recorded as 4,612. However, according to IHEC, the total number of votes cast in Kirkuk for the 2018 Christian quota elections was 13,307, which suggests a voter turnout of upwards of 280% among Assyrians in Kirkuk assuming the entire population is eligible to vote. The number of recorded votes for the KDP-aligned Chaldean Alliance list alone was 4,815 votes, exceeding the total number of Assyrians in Kirkuk.
In comparison, Alqosh, a town inhabited exclusively by Assyrians with a population of approximately 5,900, a total of 1,665 votes were cast which suggests a voter turnout of 28% assuming all residents are eligible voters. Despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of Alqosh residents adhere to the Chaldean Catholic Church, the number of votes for the KDP-aligned Chaldean Alliance totaled just 127.
The mobilization of tens of thousands of Arab and Kurdish voters in the elections to determine Assyrian representatives means the election cannot possibly reflect the will of this minoritized community within the current quota system. This electoral injustice has consistently resulted in illegitimate Assyrian representation for more than a decade.
Galeta Shaba, President of Abnaa al-Nahrain (an Assyrian political party which currently holds one seat in the Iraqi Kurdistan Parliament) said, "The KDP has stolen our seats. This is not just what you heard from the protestors today, but something the KDP has stated themselves."
Fareed Yaqo, a member of Assyrian Democratic Movement leadership said, “In the 1992 elections, only our community was permitted to vote in our elections. This changed in 2005 and as a result our right to elect our representatives was taken from us. Today, we ask that this practice be reinstated, because in every election since we have seen our seats stolen from us.”
A female protestor told the API, “They [the KDP] have not only stolen our seats, but they have stolen our lands. We are not asking for much. We are asking only for our rights. Our free will is not a threat to anyone.”
Following this morning's protest, Kurdish leader Shaswar Abdulwahid Qadir, President of the New Generation Movement, tweeted: "I fully support the Chaldeans, Assyrians, Armenians cause and their struggle to choose their legitimate representatives without interference from the KDP and PUK. The minorities should be allowed to have a say in the election law the way [that] benefits them, not the way the KDP wants."
In response to the detrimental outcome of the 2018 Iraqi parliamentary Christian quota elections, the Iraqi Parliament passed an amendment to be implemented in future national elections restricting minority elections to voters from minority communities.
A full report of the 2018 Iraqi Parliamentary Christian quota elections by the API is forthcoming.