Turning against KDP and PUK, thousands spoiled ballots in Kurdistan Region

Voting booths in Sulaimani on October 10, 2021 (NRT Digital Media/Winthrop Rodgers)

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SULAIMANI — In an election where many voters in the Kurdistan Region supported candidates from opposition parties, others faced coercive pressure from members of the ruling parties to vote a certain way but decided to express their dissatisfaction by secretly spoiling their ballots.

According to an NRT analysis of preliminary data released by Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC), 98,412 people who turned out to vote in Iraq’s 2021 parliamentary election in Duhok, Erbil, and Sulaimani governorates spoiled their ballots, approximately 8 percent of the total number cast.

In interviews, the reasons that voters gave for deliberately spoiling their ballots varied, but largely focused on a desire not to vote for either the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) or the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) despite pressure to do so from party members, candidates, family, or bosses.

One voter in a district where there was a high spoilage rate told NRT on condition of anonymity that they were promised a job by a candidate from one of the ruling parties if they voted for him and sent a photo of the ballot as proof. After voting for the candidate and taking the photo, the voter spoiled their ballot by marking it for several other candidates as well.

"They have lied many times and I don't trust them,” the voter explained, referring to the ruling parties.

Another voter, who works in the public sector, told NRT on condition of anonymity that the manager of their office made his subordinates swear to vote for a certain candidate from one of the ruling parties. After voting for that candidate in ostensible fulfillment of that promise, the voter spoiled their ballot by marking it for nine other candidates too.

According to the IHEC data, spoilage rates were highest in Erbil and Duhok governorates, where the KDP controls many levels of government.

The highest rate was in Erbil’s "2nd District,” which includes Khabat, Dashti Hawler, and Koya districts, where 17 percent of people who turned out spoiled their ballots.

In Duhok’s "2nd District” in Semel and Zakho, 13.7 percent of those who cast ballots spoiled them, while 12.6 percent did so in Erbil’s "3rd District” in the city’s northern and western neighborhoods.

Nearly 11 percent of voters who turned out in Sulaimani’s "5thDistrict” in the Garmian administration spoiled their ballots.

In several of the constituencies where there were high spoilage rates, candidates from opposition parties also won seats.

The constituency with the lowest percentage of spoiled ballots was Erbil’s "1st District,” which includes the KDP leadership’s home area of Barzan, along with Choman and Soran. In that district, just 3 percent of voters who turned out spoiled their ballots.

The second lowest rate was the 3.8 percent recorded in Sulaimani’s Raparin-based "4th District, which saw large numbers of voters support the opposition New Generation Movement.

Overall, many voters who have supported the ruling parties simply stayed home, with the KDP raw vote declining by approximately 304,000 from 2018 and the PUK’s dropping by 214,000.

This frustration gives an opening for opposition lawmakers to prove themselves to voters and persuade voters to cast ballots for parties like New Generation in future elections.

(NRT Digital Media)


District            Spoilage Rate

Sulaimani 1      8.10

Sulaimani 2      7.79

Sulaimani 3      4.41

Sulaimani 4      3.77

Sulaimani 5      10.99


Erbil 1               3.03

Erbil 2               17.02

Erbil 3               12.56

Erbil 4               6.46


Duhok 1            6.36

Duhok 2            13.69

Duhok 3            6.59

Total KR           8.03