The results of the Kurdistan legislative elections of 2013 changed the political dynamic of the region. The PUK-KDP dominance of the political arena was broken by the onset of Gorran as the second largest party with 24 seats. This placed the PUK into a difficult predicament with their diminishing influence as they claimed 18 seats.
For decades, the political cake was split roughly down the middle between the KDP and PUK as part of their strategic agreement. Now, faced with a new reality, the PUK has found it difficult to relinquish its partner status in government and historical control of Sulaimaniya province especially to its arch rival, Gorran.
In turn, this has placed the KDP in a difficult dilemma. The KDP cannot maintain its strategic relations and carry the PUK and at the same time appease Gorran and other opposition groups that have risen in ascendancy at the polls.
The PUK still holds considerable influence over security forces even if their political showing has been diluted. It is not ready to play second fiddle and relinquish political eminence where it previously enjoys several key ministries.
However, at the same time, any political accord that doesn’t place the electoral weighting of each party and the election outcome at the forefront of discussions is a setback to the political will of the people.
The PUK decline at the polls has coincided with the illness to their leader and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. In many ways, the PUK has struggled to adapt to the new political realities and evolve its strategy. Internal friction is one of the reasons the PUK has found it difficult to agree on a common position on cabinet formation.
It has been trying to convene the party’s forth congress since the last elections in Kurdistan but this was recently postponed. Prior to holding its 4th General Assembly, it has announced that Talabani will be replaced by a three-member council consisting of PUK Deputy Secretary General Kosrat Rasul, Second Deputy Secretary General Barham Salih and Talabani’s wife Hêro Ibrahim Ahmed. This will help alleviate the leadership debate that has intensified since the last elections, but does not provide the long-term remedy needed.
Distribution of ministry posts was never going to be easy with a key debate around the role of Deputy Prime Minister contested by both Gorran and PUK. The solution is to seemingly create 3 deputy positions for each main party but this brings with it other drawbacks. Gorran, whose stock has risen since 2009 as the PUK’s rival, was not about to accept a stronger PUK hand in the cabinet, having attained more votes.
Even in an opposition mode in a future government, Gorran would have a significant influence on political proceedings that may hamper the passing of laws that the KDP cannot ignore.
A national unity government may be in the best interest of the Kurdistan Region but it has led to months of wrangling and accusations amongst parties over the failure to reach an agreement. Such is the stakes of cabinet representation on a regional level that Iran has tried to exert pressure to ensure PUK retains relative standings.
Kurdistan is going through a crucial juncture amidst a reviving war between Baghdad and Sunni militants that threatens the security of the Kurdistan Region, fast approaching general elections in Iraq and heated debates between Erbil and Baghdad over national budget and exporting of oil via Turkey.
Solidarity, compromise and agreement are important to serve the interests of Kurdistan and its people aside from any partisan interests.
Such delays affect the confidence of the people who set out in their millions to cast their vote. At the same time, it places parliament in great limbo.
At the upcoming Iraqi national elections, Kurdistan must strive for unity especially in Kirkuk province and to maintain leverage in its many disputes with Baghdad.