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Iraq president's party falls to third in Kurdish polls

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Vehicles drive past a giant poster featuring Iraqi President Jalal Talabani on September 18, 2013 in Iraq's northern city of Sulaimaniyah. (AFP/File)

An opposition movement bested Iraqi President Jalal Talabani's party in the autonomous Kurdish region's parliamentary polls, shaking a decades-long duopoly on power, according to election results announced Saturday.

Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Kurdish region president Massud Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) have long dominated politics in the three-province autonomous region of northern Iraq.

But with 95 percent of votes counted, the KDP was first with 719,004 votes, the opposition Goran movement second with 446,095, and the PUK third with 323,867, according to results announced by election officials at a news conference in the regional capital Arbil.

It appears that the top three finishers will remain unchanged even after the remaining votes are tallied. A coalition government will likely be formed.

In the last parliamentary vote in the Kurdistan region, which took place in 2009, the KDP and PUK ran on the same list and finished first, while Goran, a breakaway faction of Talabani's party, placed second.

The PUK has faced increasingly tough competition from Goran as well as Islamist and Communist groupings in its home base of Sulaimaniyah -- challenges exacerbated by the prolonged absence of Talabani, who has been in Germany recovering from a stroke since the end of last year.

The PUK's struggle to revive its fortunes without its long-time leader could ultimately prove instructive to several of Iraq's major political parties, which more than a decade after the US-led invasion still remain dependent on personalities rather than policies.

???Talabani was the centre of the party, and everyone was committed to listen to him, and to do what he says. But after Talabani, there is no other person who can do that," Asos Hardi, a Sulaimaniyah-based journalist and analyst, said ahead of the September 21 vote.

The campaign centred on calls for more to be done to fight corruption and improve the delivery of basic services, as well as on how the energy-rich region's oil revenues should be spent.

Iraqi Kurdistan enjoys a high level of autonomy from Baghdad, and the regional parliament has passed laws on a wide range of issues.

Kurdistan also operates its own security forces and visa regime.