Kurdish Democracy’s biggest test yet

Shwan Zulal

By Shwan Zulal:

Kurdistan Region president, Massoud Barzani, has set the date for the next Kurdish general election at 21 September 2013.  Both parliamentary and presidential elections will be held on that date.

The candidates running for president have not put their names forward yet, apart from one independent. On the parliamentary front, it is almost confirmed that both incumbent parties, PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) and KDP (Kurdistan Democratic Party), will not be running on one List as they done in the past but will run independently. The separate Lists may not be very significant as there seems to be an understanding that they will form a government after the election – very similar to the current arrangement – if they win.

Various reports suggest that the more left-leaning PUK is keener on running separately as it feels that it risks losing the vote from the younger generation if aligned to the conservative KDP. After months of negotiations between the two parties, they decided to go forward separately but keep the strategic agreement which they both signed after years of division and conflict. The survival of the agreement is a welcomed news and possibly essential at this stage for Kurdistan Region stability.

The main beneficiary will be the PUK as it also hopes to attracted disgruntled PUK voters who voted for Gorran (Change Movement) – a splinter group from PUK led by the former PUK deputy leader and now the largest opposition party- in the last elections.  The KDP on the other hand is less happy with the arrangement because it would like to remain the number one party in Kurdistan and an increased PUK vote will dent its influence.  PUK members are trying to distance themselves from the KDP; while KDP members are making sure the electorate knows that both parties will be in coalition after next elections.

Although the parliamentary elections appear to have been agreed on, the local elections are well overdue and there are two major issues rumbling in the background; presidential candidacy and the various constitutional concerns.

Gorran, which is by far the largest opposition party, wants the constitution changed and in favour of a parliamentary system in the Kurdistan Region, curtailing the president’s powers. The PUK appears to support that position and their leader, Iraqi president Jalal Talabani, reportedly agreed with Gorran leader, Nawshirwan Mustafa, to support the constitutional changes but, since Talabani fell ill, the proposals have not been discussed further.

The constitutional changes may take a back seat for now but the other constitution matter will be discussed. According to current Kurdistan Region presidential Law, the President is limited to two terms. Although at this stage it is not certain that Barzani will be seeking a third term, given the rhetoric, it seems likely. The argument by Barzani supporters seems to focus on the fact that the law was enacted while he was serving his first term, and hence the first term does not count as a full term. This is fiercely disputed by the opposition parties and, so far, it is not clear what the PUK’s position is on the matter.

President Barzani - will he stand again?

President Barzani – will he stand again?

The KDP’s preferred candidate is the current president, Massud Barzani, but what is not clear is how the presidential candidacy will work, given the PUK and KDP are running separately in the parliamentary elections. The other electable option for the KDP will be the current KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government) prime minister, Nechirvan Barzani, although this is unlikely at this stage given the Barzani family dynamics.

The opposition are in the process of choosing their own presidential candidate and, if they agree on an electable candidate, they could have a real chance; however, so far no credible candidate has emerged that they are likely to agree upon.

The arrangement since 2003 has been that the KDP will have a candidate for the Kurdistan president and PUK will have the Iraqi presidency. Currently all indications are that the KDP will put a candidate forward, unless there is a change where KDP get the Iraqi presidency post, given the uncertainty around Talibani’s heath.

The PUK are in disarray since Talabani fell ill because he was the glue binding the party together and, if they have to choose a candidate, the only electable one will be the previous KRG PM, Barham Salih. Given the dynamics within the PUK and its internal disputes, the PUK may choose to stay as it is, waiting for its leader to recover before making any major decisions.

The next few weeks and months will be a significant period in Kurdistan Region politics and the biggest test yet of Kurdish democracy. What happens in the next election, and how it is handled by Kurdish politicians from all sides, is crucial. Getting it right and following the spirit of the law, not only the letter, will establish a strong foundation for Kurdish democracy; otherwise, if mishandled, it will uproot the fragile foundation.

7 Responses to Kurdish Democracy’s biggest test yet
  1. Ari Ali
    April 19, 2013 | 22:20

    ”Kurdish Democracy” strictly speaking this is incorrect term . We have Barzanies running two city and Talbanies running one city . They are like cancer the longer you leave it the bigger it gets and more damage cause to the present and future of the nation . In short , these guys must step down by peace or if need be by a revolution like the one in Egypt and Tunisia should the our americans friends give a consent !

  2. Ahmad Barzani
    April 20, 2013 | 00:57

    Barzani is the biggest obstacle to peace and democracy. He reserves no right to run for the 3rd term. If he does, that means S.Kurdistan is heading toward dictatorship once again and do not expect any tangible changes.

  3. Suleiyman
    April 20, 2013 | 15:38

    Nice article. Just curious why do you label Goran as the largest opposition party? Do you have something to back it up with? Maybe largest vocally but definitely not by followers. It is not in the best interest of the opposition as a whole to undermine the role of the otter opposition groups, and I do get a sense many Goran supporters ( which I think you are of them and that’s great)don’t want to publically associate Goran with other opposition groups. It’s usually attempts to mention Goran alone. Just an observation

  4. Mesut Bakuri
    April 21, 2013 | 11:33

    It’s funny how some Apocis are critisizing Barzani of being authoritarian whilst the PKK is the most (internally at least) authoritarian of all parties!

  5. Suleiyman
    April 21, 2013 | 18:45

    Mesut Bakuri
    I agree on the PKK comment. All of the current Kurdish leaders must be removed by younger men who know how to serve Kurdistan right.

  6. Aram
    April 21, 2013 | 22:47
  7. Dana
    April 23, 2013 | 02:39

    Presidential and parliamentary election is getting close in Kurdistan!

    Any member of Barzani clan wishes to be standing as candidate?

    I wonder if any one dares to defy president Barzani from the same tribe????????????????

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