In the KRG: Accountable or Unaccountable President? That is the Question

By Sardar Aziz:

The history of the Iraqi Kurdistan Parliament dates back to the early 1990s. It emerged after the central government’s withdrawal from the region and the emergence of a de facto Kurdish state. For most of its history the parliament has been a vehicle for ‘strong men’ to rule the region – without partaking in parliament. It has been dubbed as the place for medium-rank cadres in the parties. In 2009, after the emergence of opposition parties in the region for the first time, parliament moved from a single party political system to multiparty politics. It can be argued that the emergence of the opposition marked the birth of parliament as a real institution.

23rd June 2015 was another milestone in the history of the institution.
Unlike any other parliamentary session, the 23rd June session was neither mundane nor normal. What unfolded qualifies as a political event, par excellence. The session was mainly dedicated to the first reading of four amendments to the Kurdistan presidential law. These amendments were proposed by Gorran, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), a mixed parliamentary group (comprising parliamentarians from different political parties) and an amendment project by the three Islamist groups under the title of the Islamist block. These four parliamentary groups have formed an ad hoc alliance demanding a proper parliamentary system for the KRG. Opposing them is the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), seeking strong power and huge authority for the president. (Barzani, the KDP party leader, has been president of the region for more than a decade). For this reason some have described the KRG political system as semi-presidential, resembling the French model.

The opening of the parliamentary session was eagerly anticipated by both sides, albeit for different reasons. Since 30th June 2013 the specter hanging over the parliament was the actions of the KDP and PUK alliance which passed a resolution extending the mandate of the President for two more years (at that time the president had already been in power for eight years). The PUK paid a heavy price for its actions and, in the last election, it saw a big fall in support, returning with only 18 deputies and dropping to the third largest party.

The 23rd June session was also eagerly awaited by the general population. In the eyes of many the unfolding events could likely decide the future participation of Gorran in the coalition government and, critically, the power of the speaker of parliament. One of the main tools of the people is social media. It gives them influence on policy and decision making, a clear case of technology empowering a hitherto silenced majority.

The events of 23rd of June started to unfold early. From early morning MPs were heading to the Soviet-designed parliament building to participate in an event that would be historic, not just for parliament, but for the entire country, and a landmark in the democratization process. (Only the rule of law and functioning institutions can prevent the region slipping into the dark alley of strongman’s rule, like many other places in the wider Middle East). The atmosphere was eerie and rumors and conspiracy theories were rife. The night before, the two camps tirelessly tried everything to achieve their goals. The pro-parliamentarian side was worried about the possibility of violence in parliament, or even of their members being denied access to the building which was guarded solely by KDP paramilitary militants.One way they thought to prevent this was to invite along the diplomatic community in the city. But the pro-presidential or semi-presidential system did not only threaten with sticks, they also offered plenty of carrots. As parliament requires the attendance of an absolute majority to read any bill or pass any law, the price offered for not attending the parliament hall went sky high that morning.

As the session commenced the stress and tension was palpable. It became clear that the attendance was one short of the required quota. The pro-parliamentary groups were holding their breath and hoping for an MP to arrive and make the day or history. That stressful moment lasted a while and the whole region was watching live on television. At the last moment, the single member of the Kurdistan Communist Party slowly, slowly walked in. It might be the paradox of history in the region that the fate of such a decisive democratization step was made possible by a member of a communist party. The session commenced immediately and everything changed.

The aftermath is yet to become apparent. It is most possible that the parties through their politburo will reach a consensus and try to implement it. However, there is neither a straightforward legal way, nor even an easy leeway to overcome the issue. That being said, the president is adamant and the public are anxious. There are too many bad memories haunting everyone. All this is happening while the region faces many other daunting issues in the area of security, economy and misgoverning corruption.

Sardar Aziz PhD – is Senior Adviser to the Natural Resources Committee of the Kurdistan Regional Parliament and a columnist 

6 Responses to In the KRG: Accountable or Unaccountable President? That is the Question
  1. Benny White
    July 29, 2015 | 12:32

    It would have been very helpful to those of us who can’t read Kurdish to have the amendments summarized in English.

  2. Delir
    August 9, 2015 | 20:15

    PDK and KRGs president is well aware of his responsibilities. Peacefully, he should step down. There shall be no need for chaos or protest rallies in Iraqi Kurdistan. General public in Kurdistan will not tolerate repeating of last year events by any means. No foreign meddling by neighboring countries.

    Masood Barzani is the symbol of peace and democracy.
    His decisions are as wise as his words and actions. Kindly do not transfer political power and wealth. It must transpire through fair and free elections.

  3. Candidate
    August 9, 2015 | 21:35

    No coup or use of force required President Barzani. Peacefully and respectfully, you shall not extend another illegal term. Let’s see how much you believe in leadership ( Peace & Democracy).

  4. Sara
    August 9, 2015 | 21:37

    Premature presidential elections in South? Sounds perfect but Barzani will not be eligible to run again.

  5. Khalil
    August 10, 2015 | 19:37

    Kurdish Political Parties should realize that there are independent candidates in South willing to take part in upcoming presidential elections , as well. No excluding !

  6. […] Publicado por Kurdistan Tribune. […]

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