Kurds have started voting in Kurdish parliamentary elections a year after the semi-autonomous region’s failed bid for independence from Iraq.
Sunday’s election will see hundreds of candidates vying for 111 seats in the regional parliament, including five seats allocated for Turkmen, five seats for Christians and one seat for Armenians.
More than 3.1 million people are eligible to vote in the semi-autonomous region.
With opposition parties weak, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) are likely to extend their almost three decades of sharing power.
But splits within the PUK present the possibility that KDP will take a dominant position in Kurdish politics, both in the regional capital Erbil and in the difficult formation of a federal government in Baghdad.
Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani of the KDP cast his vote shortly after polls opened on Sunday morning.
“I hope the results of the vote are respected because it’s about the people’s choice for a new parliament and government,” local media quoted him as saying.
Elections had been scheduled for late 2017, but were deferred in the aftermath of a referendum for independence which was met by a swift backlash from Baghdad.
With 92 percent of Iraqi Kurds voting in favour of independence, Iraq issued a strong response imposing economic penalties and taking over the oil-producing city of Kirkuk.
Even though relations with Baghdad have improved, the Kurdish region has lost territory and economic autonomy, and voter frustration is rising.
Years of stagnant politics, unpaid salaries and corruption have undermined faith in politics and shrunk the turnout in recent elections.
Most major parties say they do not expect more than about 40 percent of the 3.85 million registered voters to go to the polls – below even the record low of 44.5 percent who voted in the federal election.