Kurdistan independence referendum: Placing national issues above partisan agendas

The independence referendum, set for Sep. 25, 2017, presents Kurdistan with an unprecedented opportunity to rewrite their destiny. However, in the face of regional powers determined to derail Kurdish aspirations, it needs to instill unity and reinforce democratic institutions to achieve national dreams.

As historic as the referendum is for the Kurds, it was beset by bickering from the main parties on the mechanisms to initiate the vote.

The meeting convened between Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani, Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, and Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani included the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), and Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU) where the date was set for the independence referendum.

However, this meeting was boycotted by Gorran, the second largest party with 25 seats, and the Islamic League (Komal).

Shorsh Haji, Gorran’s spokesperson, criticized the move toward the independence referendum labeling it as “party-based and an illegal process.”

However, PM Barzani, left the door open for Gorran and Komal, stating, “This procedure does not belong to one political party but all the people of Kurdistan.”

“It is the responsibility of all parties and components in the Kurdistan Region to participate,” he added.

Originally, the PUK was aligned to the Gorran opposition, that reactivation of Parliament was a key precondition before passing legislature on an independence referendum.

In fact, Gorran has an alliance agreement with the PUK, which has largely not been implemented. Both the PUK and Gorran have had their share of internal uncertainty in recent times.

The influential figurehead of Gorran, Nawshirwan Mustafa, tragically passed away last month.

Meanwhile, in recent years, the PUK has been beset with internal leadership squabbles that saw them lose their traditional dominant role as the largest political party alongside the KDP.

The evolving and fluid political climate highlights the desperate need for elections, scheduled for later this year, to be held on time.

New elections and a new gauge of public sentiment are needed to reinvigorate the political landscape and drive Kurdistan forward at this crucial historical juncture.

A functioning Parliament is vital for any healthy democracy. It represents the mandate of the people. The UK is a great example of how snap elections were recently held to renew political orders.

Current UK Prime Minister Theresa May, who assumed the top post following David Cameron’s resignation last year after the UK decision to leave the EU, announced snap elections to give her a strong mandate in exit negotiations with the EU.

Ironically, May’s hand was weakened as the Conservatives lost their majority, revealing a different public sentiment to what she assumed. Nonetheless, this underlines the need for partisan politics to reflect the evolving opinion of the electorate.

Every vote for any party is a reflection of the will of the people. Every political party has a mandate to serve the people but also ensure that mandate continues to be reflective of the will of the people.

The Kurdistan Parliament has been effectively in recess since October 2015, when KDP blocked speaker of Parliament Yousif Mohammed from returning to Erbil, after several demonstrations in Sulaimani Province turned violent with KDP offices torched, resulting in several deaths.

The government itself took almost seven months to form after elections in September 2013, highlighting the tense political climate.

Ideally, the Kurdistan Parliament would have endorsed the independence referendum.

Nevertheless, the issue of self-determination, something the Kurds have been waiting for over a century, goes above partisan politics or any intra-party jockeying.

It’s a national issue and a national right, and all parties, including Gorran, should put national interests first, even if some preconditions have not been met.

This doesn’t excuse the political stalemate since 2015 but, critically, the Kurds need to look to the future and not open old wounds that have not healed between all parties.

Just as elections in Europe see a changing political picture based on the sentiment of the electorate, elections later this year gives the Kurdistan Region renewed impetus on implementing a government that reflects the will of the people.

It’s far from certain how people will vote, and the political parties will need to orchestrate strong campaigns to persuade voters. And, this is how it should be in any healthy democracy.

In early May, Jaafar Ibrahim, KDP politburo member and deputy speaker of Kurdistan’s Parliament, stated, “There is good understating with respect to the question of reactivating the Parliament. I, therefore, think the Parliament will be reactivated in a month.”

A month later, there is still no sign of Parliament reconvening, with one option touted as reactivating the assembly without the current speaker.

However, the efforts and controversy of reactivating a full or partial Congress, should not dissuade from the focus on holding a successful independence referendum and then elections on time.

A lack of unity has often blighted the Kurdish cause. Without a united political front for the sake of national interests, and with many opposing sides determined to derail the Kurdish drive toward independence, Kurdish aspirations will be hampered once more.

First Published: Kurdistan 24

Bashdar Pusho Ismaeel is a London-based freelance writer and analyst whose primary focus and expertise is on the Kurds, Iraq, and current Middle Eastern affairs.

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