Let’s embrace the new democratic beginning in Kurdistan, not allow our historical disadvantages resurface.
With escalating tensions between Change Movement and PUK a real danger – further disunity, a historical Kurdish failing, will only handicap the Kurdistan Region and benefit Kurdish rivals
The unprecedented elections in the Kurdistan Region in July of last year, with the newly established Change Movement (CM or Gorran) winning a credible 25 seats in the Kurdistan parliament and for the first time installing real opposition in Kurdistan, was hoped to usher a new chapter in the Kurdish democratic experience.
CM was widely regarded as a movement reflecting the will of sections of the Kurdish population for reform, more transparency in government and better services. Either way, previous arch-rivals the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) had to battle side-by-side to win a majority at the election.
Whilst the region has been clearly dominated by the KDP and PUK since 1992, CM serves as a real challenge to the established elite in the region and a democratic phenomenon with popular support must be protected and indeed embraced as it should help raise the bar in Kurdish politics and it least in theory lead to a stronger region with the seeds of a more healthy democracy.
CM, headed by Nawshirwan Mustafa, was essentially formed as a result of bitter disputes within the PUK where Mustafa was a long-time senior deputy. As such CM posed the biggest danger to the Sulaimaniya province, a traditional bastion of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.
While any talk of a political demise of the PUK are premature, who clearly still command significant following, the rise of CM posed a direct threat to the future standing of the PUK and increased weariness ahead of national elections.
The acrimonious departure of Mustafa and the subsequent emotive political jostling in the Sulaimaniya region, has naturally led to a rise in tensions. CM has alleged that political motives have been behind a spate of attacks on its members in recent weeks, a claim which officials have strongly denied.
Tensions between the once avid allies have been heightened by verbal attacks firstly by Talabani who made a number of brazen historical accusations at Mustafa, with Mustafa issuing his own counter statement.
It is unclear at this stage whether CM is merely a direct competitor to the PUK or one that can become a more region-wide power that can also challenge traditional KDP strongholds.
Dangers for Kurdistan
The verbal attacks and negative media campaigns that have been common in recent weeks is a strong detriment to Kurdish politics and democratic evolvement.
Whilst healthy competition at the ballots was most welcome and credible opposition is just the tonic to reenergise regional development and reform, history has taught the Kurds the great dangers of disunity, fierce rivalry and political violence.
Negative media campaigns must end for the benefit of the greater Kurdistan region as the Kurds enter a crucial year in their political existence with upcoming Iraqi national elections and a number of bitter disputes with Baghdad including status of Kirkuk, oil revenues and national budget.
The new dawn in Kurdish politics in the aftermath of the regional elections should not herald a negative era but one in which politicians and the established elite must rise to the challenge by evolving and winning over disgruntled supporters.
CM was not just a political group but for many a symbol of a popular desire to revitalise politics in the region. The group won a significant portion of the parliamentary seats and whilst they may not direct sway new legislation, it acts as a pressure point for the ruling parties.
On the back of this, the recent statement by Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani is a welcome tonic that should led to protection for CM but above all else preserve stability in the region. Negative media campaigns within Kurdistan between entities can only lead to one thing – negative media campaigns abroad for the whole of Kurdistan.
Significance of Iraqi election on Kurdistan
The Iraqi election in March of 2010 serves as an important gauge for the stability and the recent hard-won security gains, especially in light of the anticipated withdrawal of US forces in August of this year. However, the elections have just an important bearing on the political platform of Kurdistan on the back of the recent regional elections.
With CM running on a separate list, it once more highlights competition against the KDP-PUK headed alliance but now at a national level. The key battle ground will once again prove to be between the PUK and CM in Sulaimaniya and to a lesser extent in Kirkuk, where any significant electoral loss by the PUK will undoubtedly increase pressure on party leaders.
Whilst there is nothing wrong with competition and political jockeying, increased hostility between political rivals in Kurdistan will no doubt see the Kurds suffer at a crucial historical juncture.
Interestingly, the national elections will be run on an open-candidate system. With the PUK weakened by the advance of CM, this means that if voters choose to back more KDP candidates, then this will serve as a fresh blow to the PUK.
With CM claiming to win 20 seats at the national elections, the party hopes to reinforce their support and thus by the same token their rivalry in key Kurdish hotspots.
All this marks a tumultuous time for Talabani if the PUK is seen to fare badly at the polls in his bedrock province of Sulaimaniya.
A long running handicap of the Kurds has been a lack of unity in recent history. This has been undoubtedly stoked in the past by weary neighbours and their governments keen to check Kurdish power by manipulating Kurdish differences.
Once again, tense political climate in Kurdistan may well be played by sides looking to diminish Kurdish power.
The short-term glee of Kurdish adversaries would be nothing short of seeing a destabilisation of their region and the Kurds wasting their collective energy on individual vendettas.
Whilst the PUK may not be directly involved in any violence against the CM, it should do all it can to ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice for the sake of the PUK and the Kurdistan Region, not to forfeit blame in recent controversy.
The Kurdistan region has come along way in less than two decades with increased stability and economic leverage. However, this relative rise in prosperity is coupled with growing expectations of the people, predominately amongst the youth.
While the nationalist card of the established elite in Kurdistan is still a strong beacon, demands and disgruntlement of the youth has arguably spurred CM support.
This by no means is a signal of a greater political revolution in Kurdistan, not just yet anyway. But it does mean that there is now direct pressure for results and change. This must come with increased accountability in government, more transparency and an independent judicial system,
The Kurds must ensure that the new political climate does not compromise Kurdistan in anyway. The Kurds can be politically divided, but the national interests of the Kurds should always be at the top of their manifesto. After all, they are all essentially working towards the same goals – preserving and enhancing Kurdish interests, which the people have voted them to perform.