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Kurdistan Election


Now to Iraq, where the Kurdistan region held elections today, the first in five years for the regional parliament. A new Kurdish government will face serious challenges. It's emerging from the battle against ISIS and tensions with the Iraqi government. As NPR's Jane Arraf reports from the Kurdish city of Sulaymaniyah, the voting had its own challenges.


JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: This was half an hour before the polls closed at a voting center in Sulaymaniyah, the region's second biggest city. A group of men showed up with what election officials decided were fake IDs. They were told to leave, and they weren't happy. In another polling center, there were shots fired outside. At polling stations in some of the villages, volunteer security forces stood watch with rocket-propelled grenades. With voting over, election officials watched by party observers began counting the votes cast. Here, fewer than half the eligible voters turned up.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Foreign language spoken).

ARRAF: These are important elections. It's been a rocky five years since the last ones, and the government here will have to deal with improving relations with Baghdad, restoring relations with its allies. They're emerging from a fight against ISIS. But the turnout here is really low. And that's the big worry, that Kurds - in particular, young people - are so disillusioned with elections that they're not coming out to vote. Outside the polling station, I talked to Mirko Mohammad, who's 23. He voted, but most of his friends didn't.

MIRKO MOHAMMAD: We've seen a lot. Like, we've heard a lot of promises that we never saw come into fruition. I have friends who have graduated for five years, and they have not found a job. So that's, basically, the biggest problem.

ARRAF: Normally, there are long lines of people outside the polling stations. But here and in other centers across the city, there was only a trickle. A lot of those who did vote had ties to one of the two major Kurdish parties. But others said they were taking a chance on parties they never supported before. Rehan Osman is a mother of four, her husband a retired Kurdish Peshmerga fighter.

REHAN OSMAN: (Through interpreter) I voted to change something. I hope this gives people hope, and our situation becomes better.

ARRAF: She says she voted for one of the opposition parties - Gorran - which actually means change. In a mobile phone shop in downtown Sulaymaniyah, shop owner Hawkar Jamal says he voted five years ago and regrets it. He says, all politicians are only interested in getting rich. This is the reality, he says. People don't believe anymore in democracy.

Jane Arraf, NPR News. Sulaymaniyah in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jane Arraf covers Egypt, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East for NPR News.