Iraqi Kurdistan's main opposition party has come in second in the autonomous region's parliamentary election, according to preliminary results on Saturday that left the shape of the government still unclear a week after the vote.
The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) share power in the previous cabinet with a combined 59 out of 111 parliamentary seats, having fought out their rivalries in a civil war during the 1990s.
But from its genesis ahead of the last election in 2009, the Gorran (Change) party has rapidly built a following among those disenchanted with corruption and the lack of transparency, particularly around revenues from the region's oil.
"They (the results) show that Gorran was not a fad," said a source in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) on condition of anonymity. "It clearly strikes a chord with a significant chunk of the population, so it won't be easy for the PUK and KDP to ignore them."
With 95 percent of the votes from the Sept. 21 election counted, the KDP had 719,004 votes, Gorran had 446,095 and the PUK was in third place with 323,827.
Two Islamic parties placed fourth and fifth, with nearly 300,000 votes between them, followed by more than a dozen smaller groups.
In the last election in 2009, the PUK and KDP ran on a joint ticket.
It was not yet clear how many seats would be allocated to each party. With 100 seats up for grabs and an extra 11 set aside for minorities, weeks of wrangling to form a government were expected.
The KDP is keen to maintain its alliance with the PUK. President Masoud Barzani is leader of the KDP, and his nephew Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani also belongs to the party.
The elections come at a sensitive juncture for Iraqi Kurds, as workmen lay the final stretch of an oil export pipeline to Turkey that could in theory make the region financially self-sufficient.
The region's rulers have been at loggerheads with the Iraqi central government over control of crude reserves, infuriating Baghdad by signing lucrative oil contracts on their own terms with the likes of ExxonMobil.
In the week since votes were cast, tension has increased between Gorran and the PUK, whose leader Jalal Talabani is also Iraqi president and has been absent since last December, when he suffered a stroke and was flown abroad from medical treatment.