Iraq – Iraqi Kurdistan's two ruling parties are likely to be confirmed in power despite an unprecedented opposition challenge when election results are announced on Monday.

Kurdish opposition groups are complaining of violations in Saturday's parliamentary and presidential vote, the first time Kurds have directly elected a leader of their mostly autonomous region, but voting officials say the poll was largely sound.

Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) said the preliminary results would come on Monday evening.

The vote has marked a shift for Kurdistan, seen as a place unfriendly to political dissent, in the unprecedented challenge presented by the opposition Change list.

The elections are not expected to end the dominance of the region's two powerful political parties or bury a feud between minority Kurds and the Arab-led government in Baghdad over disputed land and control of vast oil resources.

The ruling parties -- the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), led by Kurdish President Masoud Barzani, and the Democratic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd -- ran jointly against alliances of smaller parties.

Fouad Hussein, a top official in Barzani's office, said preliminary information showed a comfortable lead for Barzani and, to a lesser extent, the PUK-KDP list. We are awaiting the official results, he said.

Officials from Change, headed by Noshirwan Mustafa, a former PUK leader, said Kurdish authorities had executed a premeditated plan to change the results for its own benefit.

A campaign of violations began on orders of the officials on the ground of the party in authority in all towns, another opposition list, Reform and Services, said of the voting.

The IHEC said after polls closed that voting was largely free of violations. On Sunday, IHEC officials said the commission was studying over 300 complaints, but noted that the complaints were not likely to sway the overall outcome.

Opposition parties have said voters were allowed to cast ballots without identification, polling stations were blocked to opposition observers and campaigning took place after deadline.

IHEC said Barzani had broken a campaign deadline rule by speaking to reporters after voting.

This is not important, it was a very simple matter and has no effect on the elections, said the IHEC's Qasim al-Sachet.


Jabbar Yawar, a top KDP member, dismissed complaints of poll irregularities, while Abdilselam Berwari, head of the KDP Political Studies Center, said they were a case of sour grapes.

Our response is that we have expected the loser would not be so ready psychologically to accept defeat, he said.

The Iraqi government called the election democratic and said it might create space for more fruitful Kurd-Arab talks.

The violations did not effect the democracy of the elections ... We think there will be a better situation for the brothers in Kurdistan and government in Baghdad to enter into serious negotiations, government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said.

During campaigning, Kurdish leaders made defiant statements on claims to territories they contest with Baghdad, an easy vote-winner among Iraq's Kurds. But close-to-home issues like graft, jobs and services were also important for voters.

The polls may not topple the region's two-party hegemony, but Change leader Mustafa was optimistic.

Congratulations!!!!!!! This is a day to be remembered not to forget! Final results are not out yet but it's all rosy for GORRAN! Mustafa said in a posting on his Facebook page, using the Kurdish word for 'change.'

(Additional reporting by Sherko Raouf in Sulaimaniya, Muhanad Mohammed, Mohammed Abbas and Suadad al-Salhy in Baghdad; writing by Mohammed Abbas; editing by Missy Ryan and Andrew Roche)