Can Shaswar Abdulwahid Replace Nawshirwan Mustafa and Challenge Barzani?

By Aras Ahmed Mhamad:

Since Nawshirwan Mustafa’s (1944-2017) death on May 19th, the political landscape in Sulaimani province is going through a haphazard situation. The passing away of Nawshirwan Mustafa has left Sulaimani with no charismatic leader to challenge Massoud Barzani’s policies and put the affairs of the city in order.

Nawshirwan Mustafa’s death has created a tremendous imbalance of power in the Kurdistan region demonstrating deep rivalry among political entities. Amid these political tribulations, the Gorran Movement and Kurdistan Islamic Komal appear to be powerless and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan looks even more divided than ever, particularly after Barham Salih’s announcement of a new political entity called the “Alliance for Democracy and Justice” to participate in the coming election in November.

Political affairs of the region are entirely under the control of Barzani’s family: Massoud Barzani is the incumbent President of the Kurdistan region, Nechirvan Barzani is the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government and Masrour Barzani is the Chancellor of the Kurdistan Region Security Council. Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) is now more powerful than ever in comparison to other, Sulaimani-based, political parties including the Gorran Movement and PUK with regards to military equipment, government positions, media and wealth.

While other political parties are rendered helpless by the KDP’s overwhelming power, the Kurdistan region is experiencing a huge political upheaval that stimulates passionate interest in the youth to participate in the process and voice their opinions. Youth participation demonstrates a determination to refuse to be locked away or treated as a subordinate sub-human species and gives impetus to the gradual rise of the dormant and oppressed voices.

Shaswar Abdulwahid’s New Generation List has an opportunity to give people a sense of resistance in the face of internal despotism. The more powerful the political parties become, the more doubtful people would be. Therefore, Shaswar’s initiative and adventure should evoke responsibility and a sense of connection and meaning. But if the leaders of the list act as discriminatory coaches, it will fail to uplift the youth from their degraded conditions.

The birth of the Gorran Movement in 2009 required the political elite of the KDP and PUK to listen to the youth more than they had ever expected to listen. But Nawshirwan’s death and the political gap and leadership vacuum that he has left within his movement and the wider region, particularly in the Sulaimani and Halabja provinces, necessitates a new political impulse in order to give motion for the revival of youth spirit, and push and swing the current torpid political atmosphere to the maximum. The domination of the sources of power and wealth has already made the youth feel disconnected from the present politicians.

Shaswar considers himself as a representative of the new generation of the Kurdish youth engaged in a difficult struggle against the forces of the older generation who are known as the ‘generation of the mountain’. While Shaswar’s main political battle is to fight for control of decision making positions, his ideological battle is apparently to fight those politicians who consider themselves as superior in rank and status due to their revolutionary legitimacy. Shaswar is a self-made businessman who has risen to wealth and fame, as he claims, due to his strong confidence in his character and his defiant policies against the corruption of the elite politicians.

The goal of Kurdish struggle in the 1980s was to defy the former Baath regime’s policies of persecution. In the 1990s, the struggle was to unite Kurdish people and stop the civil war. The price of the division of the Kurdistan region in the civil war in the 1990s and the implementation of two administrations has been extremely serious and un-mercifully damaging. From 2000 onwards, corruption and favouritism has devoured government institutions. In 2009 Nawshirwan Mustafa founded the Gorran Movement to fight corruption, to consolidate the role of parliament, to encourage the peaceful transition of power, to urge budget transparency and to force the KDP and
PUK to unite the peshmarge forces. But corruption is still widespread, parliament is closed by the KDP, no exchange of power has happened, the budget is not transparent and peshmarge forces have not united yet. Consequently, Shaswar’s responsibility and mission is much more difficult than one might think, particularly in that Shaswar does not have revolutionary legitimacy.

The fate of the Kurdistan region depends on the consequences of decisions of Barzani and the KDP, leaving little if any room for other players to have any influential power. However, the current political pressure by the public may not only entice external danger or internal detachment but also opportunity and change. This pressure appears to be an attempt to get rid of the growing sense of frustration and disappointment in present politicians. In the absence of a true charismatic leader, alongside a huge political fissure primarily in Sulaimani, can Shaswar Abdulwahid’s New Generation List challenge Massoud Barzani’s KDP?

Aras Ahmed Mhamad is a journalist writing on the affairs of the Kurdistan region and the Middle East. He has contributed to The World Weekly, Fair Observer, Your Middle East, Newsweek Middle East, among others.

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