Page last updated at 17:36 GMT, Wednesday, 22 July 2009 18:36 UK

Q&A: Iraqi Kurdistan elections

An Iraqi Kurdish woman hold a poster showing Iraqi President Jalal Talabani (L) and Massoud Barzani (R)
Poster of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani (L) and Massoud Barzani (R)

Iraqi Kurds go to the polls on 25 July to elect a regional parliament and a new regional president.

This is the third parliamentary election since Iraqi Kurds established their semi-autonomous region in Irbil, Sulaymaniyah and Duhok Governorates in the north of the country in 1991.

The two main parties, which have dominated Iraqi Kurdish politics for the last three decades, are being challenged by a new grouping called Change List, which is campaigning for transparency and reform. For the first time, public accountability and corruption could be an election issue.

Also, the incumbent Kurdistan Region president, Massoud Barzani, is seeking re-election.

Who are the major players?

The ruling coalition of the Kurdistan Democratic Party or KDP, led by Mr Barzani and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or PUK, led by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani - is the favourite to win, but with a reduced majority. At the last election, the two parties won 104 out of 111 seats, partly because their coalition included several smaller Kurdish parties which are contesting the current vote independently.

The new grouping, Change List, founded by former PUK deputy leader Nawshirwan Mustafa, has emerged as a strong contender. Mr Mustafa, who runs a media company, resigned from his PUK post in December 2006, reportedly over disagreements on party reforms, 30 years after co-founding it.

Another contender is a coalition of four smaller Kurdish parties, who are hoping to increase their presence in parliament. These are two Islamic parties, the Kurdistan Islamic Union and Kurdistan Islamic Group, and two leftist parties, the Kurdistan Socialist Democratic Party and the Independent Kurdistan Toilers' Party.

The contenders are hoping that the poll will lead to the emergence of an effective opposition for the first time in the region's 18 years as a separate political entity.

What are the main issues?

The KDP-PUK coalition highlights the stable security situation and what it calls "improved public services" in the region, often contrasting this with what they see as a volatile situation in central and southern Iraq. They also argue that their alliance is the most effective way of staving off "foreign threats".

Other groups, particularly Change List, say they want a more transparent government, genuine opposition and strict anti-corruption measures.

Over the past few years, the public has often complained about corruption, cronyism and the two parties' control over the market, a position often reflected in reports by local and international organizations on human rights, freedom of expression and transparency in the region.

How does the system work?

Parliament has 111 seats. Eleven seats are allocated for the minorities - five for the Turkomans, five for the Assyrians and one for the Armenians. At least 30 seats must be allocated for women.

Around 500 candidates contest the seats using a closed-list method. Voters select a list, as opposed to individual MPs.

Who will observe the vote?

The Iraqi Independent High Electoral Commission will oversee the vote, but its officials have said that international monitors will also be present.

How has the campaign gone so far?

An Iraqi Kurdish supporter painted in the colours of the Kurdistan Democratic Party
The elections have revived a renewed interest in politics in the region

Some 24 political groups are taking part in the election and have been campaigning hard since 22 June, some using their own media outlets, hanging posters in public places, organising rallies and even posting material on popular websites like YouTube.

The elections seem to have revived a renewed interest in politics not seen in the region since the historic 1992 parliamentary elections. This could be because of the wider array of choice and the public's apparent frustration with the ruling parties.

There have been accusations that the ruling coalition has been using state funds for electioneering purposes. Some opposition politicians have also raised fears about an eruption of violence, calling on the government to ensure that he security forces - heavily dominated by PUK and KDP loyalists - do not interfere in the elections.

Who is eligible to vote?

Some 2.5 million people are eligible to vote. Kurds living in ethnically disputed areas in neighbouring regions of Kirkuk, Diyala and Ninawa are not qualified to vote. There will be no polling centres abroad.

How will the president be elected?

This is the first time the president is being elected through a direct public vote. The move has been criticized by sections of the Kurdish media and some politicians on the ground that the region's parliamentary system dictates electing the president by MPs.

Who are the presidential candidates?

There are five presidential candidates. These include the incumbent president, Massoud Barzani, the head of a smaller Kurdish party, Halo Ibrahim Ahmad, UK-educated writer and academic Kamal Mirawdali, Irbil-based Safin Hajji Sheikh Muhammad and Sulaymaniya-based Hussein Garmiyani.

According to recent media reports, the four Kurdish candidates have been discussing the possibility of nominating just one candidate to challenge the incumbent.

BBC Monitoringselects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaux abroad.

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