Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Voting against Change?

It is six in the morning and I am sitting in the dark in my apartment in Sulimaniyah, huddled round the blue light of my computer. I have been up for an hour, and just before six the electricity always goes. The man who is employed to fire up our generator doesn’t start work until nine, when we are blessed with heat and light once again.

What am I doing writing when I should be taking the excuse to stay in bed? I’m not sure. I have been finding it difficult to sleep recently. The gunfire might have something to do with it.

There has been rather a lot of night-time gunfire in recent days in Suli. When it started, around 9pm on election day, I did transfer myself and my computer onto the floor, out of the way of the windows, and send a slightly worried text to a colleague. But as she reassured me, it’s not really anything to worry about. At that time, both the main parties in Sulimaniyah had begun to claim victory; and the Kurds like nothing better than to shoot a few rounds skywards in celebration.

That first night was the noisiest – I am sure some of my immediate neighbours were joining in with some serious rifles – and one child was rumoured to have been injured by a stray bullet. Nothing brings home how many armed guards there are in this city quite like hearing all of them get a bit excited with their rifles, all at once. I am told that, as in parts of America, most families here also own a gun, so there is no shortage.

Much of the firing that night took place at the Hill, the headquarters of the opposition Goran ('Change') party. This is just across the road from us, which explains the noise level. During a lull, a colleague decided to leave the building with her husband, and drive to a friend’s home for a visit. On the way back they stopped to see what was happening on the Hill. This turned out to be a mistake, as they were forced to hide behind a car to dodge bullets.

The shots have been less frequent in the days since then. Although my insomnia last night was caused by what sounded like someone shooting bears at our neighbour’s house (it turned out to be fireworks), this represented a break in a basically peaceful evening.

I wonder if this is indicative of the way the results are turning locally. Of course, it will be until we get the official results, but rumour has it that the opposition Goran party, which won Sulimaniyah governorate in the 2009 provincial election, will not win the city this time around. Following on from big public shows of support during campaigning, this might be coming as a shock to the Goran loyalists who were so enthusiastic on election night.

If this turns out to be true, it would probably be justifiable to say that a fair bit of fraud was involved. Sulimaniyah tends not to be on the scale of other parts of Iraq - for instance, an international election monitor has recently told one of the editors I work with that the election in Kirkuk was so crooked it should be re-run completely. But there have been many accusations and rumours, and some of my friends personally know people co-opted by the city’s dominant political party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, to make sure no one in the largely PUK-controlled public services votes for Goran.

Goran’s victory in Sulimaniyah last year was not sweeping. But since then, various serving elected officials have defected from the PUK or its allies to Goran, unofficially swinging the governorate further towards Goran and thus provoking PUK ire. The 2010 national election has nothing to do with the 2009 provincial election in theory – Iraqi Kurdistan runs on a complicated two-government system – but the PUK may fear that Goran can formalise its de facto power by winning seats in Sulimaniyah.

This might be the reason behind any PUK fraud; and it shows how intensely local politics are around here. The fact that Goran has reportedly lost out in Suli but gained elsewhere in the Kurdish region in this election, suggests that PUK power playing is tightly concentrated on this third of the Kurdish region and this city in particular. The region’s other main power base, the capital city of Erbil, is controlled by the Kurdistan Democratic Party, and the PUK clearly do not see a Goran victory there as a threat worthy of their effort. Sulimaniyah politics does not care about what is happening in Erbil, let alone in Baghdad.

The Independent High Electoral Commission is scheduled to announce the election results on Friday – a remarkably quick turnaround in my opinion, given the various tactics and machinations that have to happen under Iraq’s complicated system of redistributing excess votes. When the announcement comes, then the knives will come out.

For now, I don’t think anyone will be staging a firing party at 6.30 in the morning, so perhaps it would be a good idea to open my curtains. Ah! Daylight...

No comments: