How to Peacefully End Double ‘Party-State’ in Kurdistan?

Sarkawt Shamsulddin

By Sarkawt Shamsulddin:

The challenge for the new cabinet is how to eliminate the status quo, double “party-state”, peacefully without creating “net losers.”(1) In order to do so, it requires an ultimate reform of both political and financial institutions. The broad-based government can be used to conduct such reforms if all parties reach a consensus on how to launch the transformations. However, a government without a strong opposition might not be an accountable one.

Why Broad-Based Government?

The strategic agreement (2) between the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in 2005 created a double “party-state” style of governing to maintain power between the two political parties. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) does not have power over public institutions region wide; the minister’s authority lies where his political party has domination. The major challenge of the new government is how to tackle the status quo without jeopardizing the stability of the region. Two things are important to eliminate the status quo: first, the capacity of the “net losers” should be taken into consideration; second, power sharing rather than maintaining balance of power. Therefore, the participation of the PUK, KDP, and Gorran (Change Movement) is essential; the three account for 80 percent of the parliament seats – KDP (38), Gorran (24), and PUK (18). The major change in the government formation is the participation of Gorran, which was perceived to be the biggest opposition party in Kurdistan from 2009 to 2013 with 25 seats. Apparently, the KDP and Gorran are ready to form the new cabinet without the PUK’s consent. This can be seen as indicating an end to the “strategic agreement.”

Yet the PUK is capable of creating crisis and destabilizing the region in terms of security and financially, despite a drastic decline in its popularity in the elections. PUK companies have an important role in the current economy in Sulaimniyah. Their shares in the market cannot be eliminated since they are the backbone of the current economy. To end the market domination of party-owned enterprises (POE) it is necessary to restructure the institutions to create a fair and competitive atmosphere for all of the companies. In the security institutions, Peshmarga and Asayish, the existence of PUK and KDP ties and loyalists is inevitable. Consequently, a peaceful handover of power requires a trilateral cooperation among all three major parties, KDP, Gorran, and PUK. Indeed, any movement by the PUK paramilitary or security breakdown will hinder the future of any foreign investment and economic growth, specifically in Sulaimniyah. Meanwhile the PUK is going through a leadership crisis, and it is in the interests of Kurdistan’s stability to help the PUK to recover. In other words, the PUK is just “too big to let it fall!”(3)

What Type of Reform?

The KRG has to adopt a new set of reform policies. The best reform is not the most radical one, but the most feasible one. The fragility of the region might not be suitable to either “shock therapy” or gradualism (turtle steps) at this stage. The “shock therapy” or “brief window” refers to a condition in economic reform used by governments to implement drastic and radical reforms in a short period of time. The goal behind this policy is to avoid the pressure of the “net losers.”(1) Gradualism is a less risky strategy in terms of politics and public endurance. But the problem with gradualism is that this may produce short-term winners that become obstacles to proceeding to further steps.

The reform usually produces political incentives/disincentives. It sometimes harms the political popularity of the ruling parties. The broad-based government might be a strategy to overcome these risks; all parties share the credits and the failures. However, in a broad-based government, the decision making process is much more complicated compared to a one-party government. The best policy, probably, to launch the reforms is to reach consensus and guarantee minimum loses to all parties. It is also important for it to be a transparent process so as to get public support.

What Kind of a Deal?

The convention is that any deal made with the KDP will inevitably be lost, with the exception of “Erdogan”(4), and this argument is illustrated by the strategic agreement between the KDP and PUK. However, it was not the agreement that harmed the PUK, and there other reasons behind the PUK’s decline such as leadership crisis, fragmentation and underestimating public grievance. The preconditions for a successful agreement with KDP or any other party are transparency, and institutionalization.


The broad-based government is an opportunity to launch the reforms and institutionalize the changes. The participation of major political parties in the new cabinet will secure changes that will not be subject to reversal in the future. The first six months is the opportunity window to conduct the reforms; however, the radical reforms might not be feasible at the beginning.


1. The “strategic agreement” is a treaty signed by KDP and PUK in 2007 to jointly form the KRG cabinets, and keep the status quo, and the financial and security division of Kurdistan after start of civil war in 1994.
2. The “net losers” refers to a group politicians or business owners who see the changes and the transformations as a threat to their existing condition. These groups are capable of obscuring the changes through security breakthrough, protests, and media campaigns.
3. “Too Big” term was used by Western observers for Russia after the fall of Soviet Union. The observers urged US and Europe to help Russia to handle the economic crisis in 1992 since Russia had dozens of nuclear weapons. The observers believed the fall of Russia might lead to mismanagement of its nuclear weapons and they used this term Russia is “too big” to let it fall!
4. Hannes Cerny, 2014 “Erdogan’s Kurdish Electoral Gamble Will Reverberate in Turkey and Iraq” World Politic Review.

Sarkawt Shamsulddin: Graduate Student at Virginia Tech University, School of Public and International Affairs, majoring in Governance and Global Security. Kurdistan Tribune Editorial Staff member

2 Responses to How to Peacefully End Double ‘Party-State’ in Kurdistan?
  1. Aram
    April 22, 2014 | 00:53

    Very neutral analysis, but I believe Gorran may not stay in the government for a long period of time.

  2. HAVAL
    April 23, 2014 | 22:05

    well writen article

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