PUK: Party of Division and Disunity

PUK founder Jalal Talabani (2006 photo)

By Arian Mufid:

The time is ticking for the PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) to hold its fourth conference. This will be the fourth conference since the organisation was founded in 1975 and the first in the absence of its founder, Jalal Talabani. When Talabani passed away, it was like when a father dies without leaving a will and only the good keep quiet while the bad take advantage of the gap. Talabani never appointed someone to be his successor. This conference was initally scheduled for 7th December but the PUK politburo has postponed it to the 21st of this month. The PUK are disorganised and not prepared for this event. Every party conference should be about the past, present and future but traditionally PUK conferences are always stuck in the past. The party has had the same leadership for the last thirty years and it has failed to pave the way for a new generation to ascend to the leadership circle. The PUK has slipped, by the admission of one of its leaders, to becoming the third party in the south of Kurdistan. The party was successful in the early 80s through building bridges between the people of the rural and urban areas, but it was unable to deal with the challenges of the 90s, and so many followers grew disappointed and abandoned the organisation and joined the biggest party in the south of Kurdistan. To date the PUK has held three conferences although by today’s definition these were more like plenums or rallies. In the past Talabani was the main organiser and the main person making all the recommendations. Talabani effectively appointed the politburo, he wrote the general reports on party policy and strategy and he never faced any rival to his position as the secretary general. Senior members of the PUK believe the latest conference can produce little to mitigate the current situation. Observers believe the conference cannot be fruitful since there is no agreement between the rival wings inside the organisation. There is a sophisticated and ruthless propaganda operation mounted throughout the PUK organisation that relentlessly promotes the Talabani wing, headed by the cousins and sons of Jalal. The primary reason for holding this conference is to unite the party and elect its leadership but this is impossible in the absence of Talabani to unite the ranks. The media in the south of Kurdistan are saying that the party is expiring and cannot hold a conference, but everything depends on what happens between the grassroots and leadership. It’s not easy to figure out exactly what is going on inside the party. The PUK can be in no doubt that it has lost political and moral support of the people, and whilst the Talabani family are playing tricks over the conference, opponents could argue that this is because they are desperate to avoid a defeat engineered by the likes of Kosrat Rasul and Barham Salih. This conference could be the explosive charge set to blow up the whole old PUK leadership and from which a new leadership will arise.

Inevitably the party is moving into decline, with no firm evidence that this process can be reversed. The PUK should not be afforded starry-eyed comparisons with its illustrious past leaders. You don’t need to study history for a glimpse of what the PUK’s conference is likely to deliver for the Kurdish people in the south. The PUK’s division and disunity has hurt the people of the Sulaymani area. This conference should be about restructuring the organisation. The key problem is the absence of strong leadership. This conference might cement the end of the Talabani decades of ruling and controlling the Suli area. Some observers in Sulaimani, the capital of PUK, want to decouple the two histories of before and after the Talabani era. That is not correct: what is going on inside the PUK today is part of the continuing legacy of Talabani. A new leadership from the post-2003 generation must arise to surmount this impasse: otherwise the party will lose its grasp on its followers. PUK leaders since the passing of Talabani have not acted responsibly. What is going on inside the party is the consequence of Talabani’s long rule over the organisation.

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