There is still over a month to go before Iraqi Kurds go to the polls along with the rest of the country. A democratic feast in the making? Hardly - the results are already known. That Kurdish groups have set up a coalition for January's elections was only to be expected. The Kurds are a minority with few friends inside the country, and see a united front as their only hope of getting what they want when the new constitution is drawn up. But on December 1, Kurdish leaders went a stage further, announcing that the two main Kurdish parties, plus half a dozen smaller ones, would form a joint list for the Kurdistan regional parliament elections, due to take place on the same day. According to the agreement, negotiated in secret, about 80 per cent of the coalition's seats will be divided equally between the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Smaller parties get the rest. Both PUK leader Jalal Talabani and his KDP counterpart Massud Barzani described their decision as a response to public demand. The patriotic rhetoric failed to convince Assos Herdi - editor of Iraqi Kurdistan's only independent newspaper, Hawlati. When Iraq's Kurds last went to the polls in 1992, he pointed out that KDP and PUK divided almost all the votes between them. 'What we are facing now is not a democratic election but a sort of single-party referendum,' he said. Said Mohamed, a student in Sulaimaniyah - capital of the southern, PUK-controlled half of Iraqi Kurdistan - added: 'It's like George Bush and John Kerry running together against Ralph Nader. I hope they win 99 per cent of the vote, like that other expert at democratic elections, Saddam Hussein.' Despite the growing public discontent with the Kurdish leadership, widely seen as corrupt and self-serving, such anger and cynicism is not widespread. Apart from the websites of radical exiles, most Kurds seem to approve of their leaders' decision to strip them of almost all influence in the shaping of their new government. The most frequently cited reason for this bout of democratic self-effacement is patriotism. Many also argue that the joint list offers a solution to an issue close to every Kurdish heart - the need to end their own society's deep political divisions. Briefly united in an uneasy power-sharing arrangement after the de facto secession of Iraqi Kurdistan in 1991, the KDP and PUK were fighting each other by 1993. Since then, northern Iraq has been divided into two zones of influence, each with its own party-controlled ministries, budget and military. Some observers blame international insistence on the need to legitimise the Iraqi government as soon as possible, and the pretence played out in central elections that Iraq is a unified country. 'If elections were purely regional, Iraqis would vote for people they approve of', says Sulaimaniyah-based journalist Hiwa Osman. 'These elections are nothing to do with democracy. They're all about domination, and that merely consolidates the power of people who are a model of bad governance.'