Moderate Kurdish candidate Barham Salih swept to the post of president of Iraq Tuesday evening in a parliamentary vote pitting Kurdish heavyweights against each other for the first time.
Salih routed his main rival Fuad Hussein with 219 votes to 22, dealing a blow to Hussein’s main backer, former Kurdish regional president Massud Barzani who was the architect of an ill-fated 2017 independence referendum.
Tuesday’s poll follows a weekend parliamentary election in the Kurdish autonomous region, mired in economic crisis and still in shock from the fallout of the September 2017 plebiscite which sparked a punishing response from Baghdad.
Newly elected Iraqi President Salih has also named veteran Shiite politician Adel Abdul Mahdi as prime minister-designate and tasked him with forming a new government, two lawmakers told Reuters on Tuesday.
According to Iraq's constitution, Abdul Mahdi now has 30 days to form a cabinet and present it to parliament for approval.
Salih named Abdul Mahdi less than two hours after he himself was elected president.
The largely ceremonial role of president has been reserved for the Kurds since Iraq’s first multi-party elections in 2005, two years after the US-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.
Under a tacit accord between the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the PUK would hold the federal presidency and the KDP the post of Iraqi Kurdistan’s president.
But the Iraqi Kurdish presidency has been left vacant since KDP leader Massud Barzani resigned at the end of his mandate following the September 2017 referendum that he championed.
The vote for an Iraqi president was scheduled for Monday before being postponed due to the lack of a quorum.
In a first round of polling Tuesday, neither Salih nor Hussein won the two-thirds vote necessary to win outright, forcing a second round.
Salih, a 58-year-old moderate, has served both as Iraqi deputy premier and Kurdish prime minister.
He was part of an interim authority put in place by the United States following the 2003 invasion that ousted Saddam.
He later became deputy prime minister under Nuri al-Maliki then returned to the Kurdish regional capital Arbil in 2009 to become head of the Kurdistan government.
His rival for the post of president was the Hussein, a 72-year-old former chief of staff for Barzani and veteran of the opposition to Saddam.
Iraq’s parliament has also chosen a speaker of the house.