Tag Archives: Kurdistan Elections

Kurds must look within to secure future

Kurdistan is crossing through a unique and sensitive juncture, yet lack of unity is threatening to hamper the region at a crucial time.

With Kurdistan at war with the Islamic State (IS), experiencing unprecedented economic crisis, and housing nearly two million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and refugees in an increasingly volatile region, the challenges are already high.

However, the constant bickering between the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Change Movement (Gorran), at this vital time undermines Kurdish goals and aspirations.

The Kurdistan government took just shy of seven months to form in 2014 after Kurdistan parliamentary elections in September 2013, underscoring the fragile makeup of the coalition cabinet.

Deep divisions over the state of the presidency, protests in October 2015 that turned violent with KDP offices getting torched and the subsequent prevention of parliament speaker from Gorran, Yousif Mohammed, from entering Erbil, culminated in the political standoff that remains today.

There have been various attempts to find a political breakthrough but the political parties have mainly blamed each other for the stand-off and lack of progress.

Kurdistan Region President, Masoud Barzani, recently urged political parties to kick start negotiations to resolve the current deadlock. The president urged the political parties “to solve the current crisis…activate the parliament and elect a new presidency,”

However, Barzani stressed that “it is not possible for those who have been the source of the crisis, remain in the chair of the parliament.”

The deadlock has seen a threat of a return to the dual administration of the past with KDP on one side and PUK and Gorran on the other. There has been notable differences in their respective approaches to working with Baghdad, relations with Ankara and Tehran, policies on Syrian Kurdistan region, handling of oil revenues and budgets and even moves towards independence.

Gorran’s suggestion of governorates establishing direct relations with Baghdad would merely intensify these divisions in Kurdistan and would undermine the hard fought Kurdish gains.

The new initiative by President Barzani is a welcome step to thaw tensions and end the deadlock. However, giving the likely nature of a slow process of compromise and with legislative and presidential elections set for 2017, Kurdistan may well have to wait for next elections to achieve a breakthrough.

Kurdish parties cannot afford to focus on short-term measures to bridge divides. Greater unity, especially outside of Kurdistan borders, should be a red line if Kurdistan wants to achieve its long-term dreams.

The new historical passage for the Kurds amidst the unravelling Middle East places Kurdistan into a dominant strategic position and ever closer to independence.

However achieving statehood, the dream of all Kurds, is a lofty task if the region itself cannot find greater unity, a shared vision and a long-term strategy when it’s facing grave security dangers and economic crises.

The imperial powers had already tainted Kurdistan by forcefully dividing and annexing the Kurdish regions to neighbouring states; however, Kurds are not helping themselves with further divisions in the respective segments.

Kurds are already looking across to see how the United States President-elect Donald Trump could benefit the Kurdish position. But with globalization on the decline, a new anti-establishment mindset in the US, rising Russian influence and the European Union braced for right-wing revivals, the world is braced for more change and unpredictability.

As history has proven, Western interests will always be through the narrow lens of their governments. At the same time, Kurds should not expect Baghdad, Ankara or Tehran to come running to solve their economic crisis or defend their region.

A polarized Kurdistan, faced with economic difficulties, increasing social unrest and political deadlock will only undermine the Kurdish position.

These unique historical junctures do not come often. After suffering for decades under repressive regimes and a second class status, Kurds are in a position to rewrite their own destiny. This is an opportunity that they dare not waste.

First Published: Kurdistan 24

Growing hope of elusive government formation in Kurdistan as the PUK internal crisis intensifies and endangers stability.

As the Kurdish public grow increasingly frustrated and impatient at the lengthy delay and protracted negotiations around government formation, there were recent signs that the deadlock can be finally broken.

The onset of 3 strong parties was unprecedented in Kurdistan’s democratic experience. Although, this is an encouraging sign of political and democratic maturity, this new ground brought with it new challenges.

As with any political or social landscape, the situation will constantly change and as such politics will have to follow suit. Finding a compromise on government formation has been difficult but this has been made even more difficult as the region and political parties became accustomed to new norms.

This is particularly true of the PUK. Since the tragic illness to their leader and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, they have struggled to agree a common roadmap and way forward. It has been evident ever since the first notable split, when Gorran was formed in 2009, that there was increasing disagreement and disunity with the ranks about the future and strategy of the party.

However, as long as a constructive and reconciliatory tone is maintained, evolution and vigorous debate over the future of the party can be healthy. It is a sign of changing times and adapting to the new local and regional climate. After all, no party or political leader can expect that the policy and approach of yesterday can merely continue indefinitely.

PUK’s internal instability has accelerated in recent weeks with a growing media war. The decision to postpone the party elusive party convention caused rifts to deepen among its main council leaders Hero Ibrahim Ahmed, Kosrat Rasul and Barham Salih. Salih resigned soon after the postponement of the party convention and was particularly vociferous in the need for reform in the aftermath of the disappointing parliamentary elections.

Amidst the growing rifts in a major political party and an emboldened Gorran on the scene as the second largest party, the recipe for prolonged political wrangling and delays was there. How difficult would discussions on a wider level be if the PUK did not have united front at home?

After 20 or so rounds of talks around government formation, there was a glimmer of hope that concord was finally struck. Gorran would relinquish role of Deputy Prime Minister to the PUK, accept the position of parliament speaker and would symbolically attain the post of Interior Ministry.

The position of interior ministry would be a coup for Gorran especially as it means they can play a more pivotal role in government affairs and upholding their election manifesto, and can oversee security forces that they allege lean to the major parties.

The PUK internal struggle harms Kurdish stability in the region and Kurdistan Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani warned the security of the region and the stability of Sulaimaniya was a red line. The KDP can play a vital role in soothing cracks in its ally.

The situation is not helped that in spite of diluted seats, the PUK has sway over most of the security forces in Sulaimaniya province. No doubt that even some of these security forces have allegiances to Gorran and also sentiment towards certain party leaders within the PUK.

So what does all the internal party rifts and constant delays in forming a government mean for Kurdistan. For a start, if the Kurds are not united at home, how can they be united away?

The Iraqi national elections are fast approaching and with the continued illness of Jalal Talabani, it is not clear who the Kurds will even propose for post of President. Distribution of posts amongst the Kurds in Baghdad could well be another item of contention.

With continued clouds over Kirkuk and disputed territories, a new sectarian war between Sunnis and Shiites, and the continued stand-off over oil exports, Kurdish disunity will greatly harm their greater goals.

The need for a united approach in external affairs is evident in the different stance towards Syrian Kurdish autonomy. The PUK and Gorran have publicly supported the onset of autonomous cantons in Kurdish areas whereas the KDP have refused to recognise the new administration. In such a case, what is the official position of the KRG?

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Failure to form new cabinet threatens to harm Kurdish interests home and broad

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.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

The new politician dawn of Kurdistan and its ramifications

The Kurdistan legislative elections of 2013 promised to mark a historical milestone in the Kurdish political and democratic evolvement and the outcome was no different.

Kurdistan has moved from the predictable electoral nature that underscored the duopoly of KDP-PUK control of the Kurdish political sphere where political control could be almost split in the middle, to a new political horizon with more healthy competition and need for different permutations and alliances.

This duopoly was broken in 2009 with the emergence of the Movement for Change (Gorran) adding an opposition element to the Kurdistan government previously unseen.

The success of Gorran was at the expense of the PUK in their traditional backyard of Sulaimaniya and indeed this was a reoccurring theme in 2013.

The KDP as most expected proved the overall winners of the polls, with preliminary results indicating over 37.5% of the vote. But crucially, such was the more balanced nature of the electoral outcome that the KDP must work with other parties, including Gorran to form a new cabinet.

Much focus has been placed on the demise of the PUK, but the fall from joint rulers of Kurdistan to a third-placed position cannot be underestimated.

With the end of the Strategic Agreement, the PUK failings could not be veiled by prospect of a coalition list with the KDP as was the case in recent years. Running independently meant the strength of each party was easier to gauge.

However, talk of the PUK as a new weak or insignificant actor is premature. When one political door closes, with the right leadership, strategy and resolve many new doors can open.

But any PUK revival must be underpinned by forward-thinking and a new reality and away from its past status. In this light, although the KDP clearly prefers to keep intact its partnership with the PUK and form a new cabinet with the Kurdistan Islamic Union, this is may do more harm in the long-term to the PUK.

The Strategic Agreement may have made sense when both the KDP and PUK were on roughly equal footing and the region was effectively split into two administrations and the government was split into two terms. but the rules have changed and PUK would have to work under new diluted terms and mainly under the KDP umbrella of policies and dominance.

The PUK and KDP have many historical differences including political ideology, control of security forces, foreign alliances and government policies, and with a weaker PUK hand this cannot be masked as before.

The PUK can serve as an effective force in opposition movement. As Gorran has shown, the opposition tag can be a key magnet for a vital voice in Kurdistan. Much can change in the next 4 years and a move to opposition would also allow the PUK to regroup over the next years, lick their wounds and move on.

The PUK leaders to their credit have been quick to acknowledge their disappointment at the polls and the new reality that beckons. The loyal PUK voter base would prefer a new fight and the realisation of a new dawn than a continuing an outdated and now uneven strategic alliance with the KDP.

As for Gorran, their status as the second largest party in Kurdistan is a remarkable feat. However, much in the same way as the PUK, they are about to embark on a new chapter and a new identity. How they fare with their new status and political clout will determine whether they can continue to grow as a political force or whether their support base rescinds in 4 years’ time.

Gorran are in a tricky position. With such a large proportion of votes, its support base does not expect them to continue to work on the peripherals of power as an opposition force. At the same time, joining the government places Gorran into unchartered territory. They have to work with the KDP and been against the ruling parties is somewhat easier than working side-by-side with them.

An option that cannot be overlooked with the number of seats combined is Gorran and the PUK joining forces to form a new cabinet at the expense of the KDP.

However, these would mean the PUK mending bridges amidst a fierce rivalry with Gorran and PUK alienating the KDP, even though the KDP has reaffirmed their support and commitment to the PUK.

The ideal scenario, at least on paper, is a broad based political coalition amongst the major parties. However, this would deprive Kurdistan of a decisive opposition and will make the government brittle and susceptible to differences, bickering and prolonged decision making.

With the new political reality, rivalries and passions may intensify, especially in Sulaimaniya. A factor that should not be discounted is that the PUK may have lost political power but still have allegiance and influence of most of the security forces in Sulaimaniya province.

More political competition and jockeying for power must not be at the detriment, unity or stability of Kurdistan or ultimately the serving of the people who voted them into power.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

The democratic will of the people cannot be ignored

As a tense political climate ensues in Kurdistan ahead of the critical national elections in March, the notion of change and evolution must be embraced, however, at a crucial historical juncture the Kurds must be careful to guide their region towards a new dawn and not a tainted past.

There is nothing wrong with change, if it is in the right direction” – Winston Churchill

Whilst democracy is a fledgling phenomenon in Iraq and not without its fair share of deficiencies and impediments, it is nevertheless a remarkable milestone and the national elections of 7th March 2010 provide a chance for millions of Iraqis to be heard.

It is down to the people to voice their vote but ultimately down to the politicians to deliver.

Iraq faces a tense battle on many fronts as people eagerly await the electoral result. However, the notion of “change” must surely be at the pinnacle of any political manifesto if the next 5 years is to be successful.

This change comes in a number of forms. Same foot dragging over constitutional issues, budget and resource sharing, lack of reconciliation, chauvinist mentalities of the past or a government who those not want to truly embrace democratic values, compromise and critically the voice of the very people they have been voted to serve then Iraq can be guaranteed one thing – the next 5 years will be as unproductive, tiresome and problematic as ever.

Without the need for a greater change on many political levels, the same thorny issues put on ice over the past five years such as resolving disputed boundaries will lie in stalemate in 5 years time. Or worse still, without a flexible and all encompassing democratic apparatus, violent resolution of these issues.

New political horizon in Kurdistan

Remarkable progress on political, economic and social levels has been made in less than two decades since the liberation of Kurdistan. However, Kurdistan now finds itself at a critical crossroad.

One that can truly propel it to a new standing both within Iraq and the Middle East, or one that will only induce echoes of past infighting, disunity and bureaucratic governance.

The progress of the Change Movement or Gorran from literally the backdoor to a major opposition as a result of the Kurdistan parliamentary elections last July, where it won a credible 25 seats or 23.57% of the vote, speaks volumes.

The basis for this new political horizon is in essence revealed in the name itself – “change”. This motion is reflected in the millions of Kurds, who demand changes to living standards, political reform and more transparency.

However, change itself is a loose word. Whether Gorran is a direct rival of the PUK only or is a viable and affective alternative voice for all of Kurdistan remains to be seen.

The onus is on Gorran to push through the very ideal of change people have identified with them. This means that the plan for change needs to be structured, coordinated and implemented. The ruling elite in the KDP and PUK may embrace a common desire for change, but this change must be shepparded in the right direction and for results that will benefit the greater Kurdistan region both internally and in Baghdad.

A new direction

A popular demand for change and the new political competitiveness should not mean disunity and crippling of Kurdish national interests. All Kurdish politicians have been elected by Kurds to serve Kurds.

There is nothing wrong with internal political jostling or heated campaigning, but such a destructive atmosphere in the form of media campaigns, grave insults and accusations, harsh exchange of words between leaders and violence guarantees only one thing – a big smile on the face of Kurdish adversaries.

Uncertainty of electoral outcome

There is fierce political jockeying in Kurdistan with more at stake than ever. The PUK dominance particularly in Sulaimanyia and Kirkuk has been challenged and the national elections will only reaffirm the views of the people.

With the new open-candidate list system serving to potentially further influence the PUK power sharing with KDP, there has been a lot of media coverage around the “demise” of the PUK.

Talk of such a decline is premature but one thing is certain – democracy practiced in a fair and just way does not lie. The results are derived from the opinions and choice of the people and it is the will and choice of such people that must be protected and placed first.

This is the very essence of a healthy democracy and facilitating change in the right direction. If the bar has been raised as a result of the new political climate in Kurdistan, then the onus is on the likes of the KDP and PUK to raise the stakes, adopt reform and change the minds of the people. Any political system where politicians can rest on their laurels, only guarantees slow progress, corruption and lack of services to the people.

By the same token, the Gorran movement becoming a major force in Kurdistan is only a starting point. There is no compulsion in a healthy democracy and just as easily as millions can vote for you, millions can vote against you if their expectations are not met or if political promises are not fulfilled.

The KDP and PUK hierarchies must ensure the protection of such political parties and ensure that battle is done in the ballot boxes and not on the streets.

Kurdish role in Baghdad

Although Gorran and the Kurdistan Alliance will effectively campaign on two separate lists in the national elections, this does not mean it should be to the detriment of Kurdistan.

The overall strategic goals of the Kurds must be strengthened and not undermined as a result of the new Kurdish political awakening.

This does mean that the Gorran can now use its leverage to pressure the KDP and PUK into change or to introduce elements of its philosophies, which is only natural if you muster such a significant portion of votes. However, this should not mean that personal and political vendettas should see this new climate turn into a Kurdish nightmare.

This is about the Kurdish people and Kurdistan not supporting one group over another or turning this into a social or dynasty battle in Kurdistan.

The Kurds will once again have a kingmaker role in the next government, and their support for any coalition in Baghdad must see Kurds attain firm guarantees for their strategic goals in return.

Tense climate in Kurdistan

The recent heated debates and walkout in the Kurdish parliament, violent friction in the Sulaimanyia province and the anger over the alleged labelling of the Peshmerga forces by a Gorran MP as a militia, threatens to create a political and social divide in Kurdistan.

Such divide in the 90’s resulted in civil war and effectively meant that two Kurdistan administrations existed.

Status of Peshmerga forces

For Kurds, the word Peshmerga is etched in Kurdish folklore. Without the sacrifices and bravery of the thousands of such individuals who fought against repression and occupation, Kurdistan would never be where it is today.

Any labelling of the Peshmerga as a kind of militia is not only disrespectful and out of tone of Kurdish political standards and revered heritage but will undoubtedly incite Kurdish sentiments ahead of elections. This is something we become accustomed to hear from Baghdad, whose view of the Peshmerga as a militia is only to undermine the force and serve to weaken an element they see as a direct threat.

However, by the same token, politicisation of the forces should be discouraged at all costs. They should be embraced as a national Kurdish army to serve and protect all of Kurdistan. This is one example of where political polarisation of Kurdistan must change.

Uncertainty over the results of ballots and political anxiety should be seen as a sign of a healthy democracy. Politicians should fret over their performance at the polls and not walk into parliament via a red carpet.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Peyamner, Various Misc.

Unprecedented elections mark turning point in Kurdish democracy

Regardless of how opposition fares in elections, an important platform has been set for reform, prosperity and evolvement that should not be wasted.

The unprecedented, emotional and colorful election campaigns were concluded, and the time had come to cast votes on 25th July 2009, with millions of eager Kurds turning out on an historic Election Day.

While it may take days for result to be announced as the ballots boxes are counted, Kurds waiting anxiously can be sure of one thing, the election was just the right tonic to kick start sociopolitical development in the region, send a subtle jolt down the established elite in Kurdistan, embolden democracy in the region and crucially afford the Kurds the next platform on which to advance and prosper, in tentative and hostile times.

Regardless of how many seats Nawshirwan Mustafa’s refreshing political opposition, Goran (“change”) List, wins at these elections, they can be given huge credit for making the elections a competitive, energetic and taboo-breaking spectacle that can allow democracy and modernization in the region to assume the next gear.

Arguably, nowhere in the world have election campaigns been as passionate and colorful than in Kurdistan. The choice available at these elections, with 24 lists competing for 111-seats of the Kurdish National Assembly, ensured that political interest was rekindled in the region.

It is now the turn of the new political establishment after these elections to fulfill the promises to the people and ensure that the strong tides that have been created from these latest elections and the historic opportunity that it brings is not wasted.

The political battle scene

Traditional political heavyweights in the region, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) spearheaded by incumbent Kurdistan Region President, Massoud Barzani, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) led by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, may have been the fiercest of rivals in the past, but have united in recent elections under one banner.

This time under the Kurdistani List, they are expected to be confirmed as the victors at the polls once more. However, perhaps the fact that the two historic opponents have needed to battle side-by-side and unite as closely as ever to secure victory says much about the healthy nature of the electoral campaigning at this election.

The newest newcomer to the political fold in the region, the Goran List head by Mustafa, who broke away from the PUK leadership earlier this year, has proved to be greatest challenger to the status quo.

The influence of the new opposition

The support of the Goran List has seemingly gathered pace as the campaign bandwagon headed towards Election Day. The Goran List was as much of a political organization as a sociopolitical revolution in the region.

Their manifesto was simple, it promotes change in the political institutions and hierarchy of the region and is designed to serve as a different flavor and a distinct alternative for the Kurdish masses – arguably, what that they have lacked since the first historic Kurdish elections in 1992.

Goran has based its support on taking advantage of the disgruntled sentiments of large sections of the Kurdish population, who air common frustration at the current government.

A common theme has been Goran Lists determination to combat corruption and elitism in the region. It has accused key parties of been more interested in keeping power than undertaking necessary reform. Its support base has been mainly in the eastern parts of the Kurdistan Region, around the city of Sulaimaniya were it is expected to pose a huge challenge particularly to the traditional stalwarts of the area, the PUK.

It also has strong following amongst an expectant youth, who are frustrated with opportunities. Other frustrated voices have complained about living standards, bureaucracy and lack of employment.

The increasing productive role of the youth at these elections is most welcome, after all they are the very future of the region and as such political advancement, reform and prosperity cannot be achieved without their advent support, active involvement and direct interest.

The other key challengers are the Service and Reform List, an alliance comprising two Islamist parties, the Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU), and the Kurdistan Islamic Group and two leftist parties, the Toilers Party and the Social Democrat Party. They group has 18 seats in the current parliament, and a similar showing at the polls would significantly boost the power of the opposition alongside the Goran List.

The likely winners

Although Goran are expected to do make credible gains at the elections, this shouldn’t sway one away from the reality that both Barzani and Talabani still enjoy momentous support across the country. While the PUK support base may have been rocked around the Sulaimaniya region, it still enjoys popular support and the KDP still has formidable support particularly around Duhok.

The support base of the KDP and PUK is noticeable amongst old generation of Kurds, many of whom are veterans who fought in the tough days of discrimination and oppression, far from the relative prosperity and freedom of today.

The iconic and historic part that the KDP and PUK and their leaders have played in the situation of Kurdistan today is etched in Kurdish memory. However, this fact sits more deeply with the older Kurds, who suffered bitterly in the dark days of Baathist rule and feel a debt of gratitude and loyalty to the ruling parties.

While other supporters of the Kurdistani List point to the economic boom in recent years and Kurdish gains since 2003.

The youth inspired by opportunity, the possibility of migration to abroad and growing expectations are becoming less sympathetic to the nationalist card of these long-established parties.

Although, the added focus on the motion of change is a refreshing addition to the political scene and one which the Kurdistani List must pay heed, powerful and well-known incumbents are also a key prerequisite for Kurds to safeguard their gains in the region and in order to prosper economically and strategically in a hostile region.

Presidential elections

For the first time in Kurdish history, the president is to be chosen directly by the people. Kurdish nationalist icon and incumbent president, Massoud Barzani, is widely-expected to win the race by a landslide.

Much in the same as established parties give the region a stronger hand in difficult times, the appointment of Barzani in a second presidential term would serve as a boost to the region.

Barzani is a well known and respected figure, and one who airs the authority and experience that the fledging region still requires.

Barzani strikes the right balance between dealing strongly with neighboring countries whilst at the same time emphasizing the importance of mutual ties, which the region is greatly dependent upon. In particular, key issues with Baghdad such as article 140 and revenue sharing, requires a strong figure and a determined nationalistic mindset.

Barzani has expressed strong rhetoric in recent years on political reform and paying heed to the wishes of the people, there must now be strong pressure from the top in ensuring parliamentary promises are fulfilled. The example of reform and setting motions to deal with current perceived failings of the government must start from the very top.

The way forward

What is clear is that regardless of the election results, the next Kurdish parliament is under pressure to deliver, to change the system of government and press towards reform.

The Kurdistani List are likely to win the next elections, but they can rest on their laurels at their peril, with people now anticipating that the next 4 years will live up to the election campaign euphoria.

If there was any notion of political comfort from the ruling elite, then these elections should serve to change that. Certainly, if the people continue to be disgruntled with the KDP and PUK at the next elections, then their majority will erode even further.

The next government must ensure more transparency and accountability, with an independent and respected judiciary system underpinning the new order.

It is an ideal scenario for the region to finally have credible opposition in parliament. It not only emboldens democracy, but healthy competition is just the ingredient encourage to boost political progression.

The Kurdistani List will now have to contend with a major opposition in parliament, and the influence of the opposition will be noticeable on key regional policies, especially relations with Baghdad, where a more reconciliatory tone is likely.

These elections will undoubtedly server as a turning point in the Kurdish democratic experience.

Healthy competition from within, unity from the outside

No matter how competitive and heated election and political jockeying becomes, the main thing is to ensure that perception of unity is not distorted to the outside world.

Many elements from within Baghdad and neighboring countries, wish to capitalize on instability and political uncertainty and at the current time when important national fundamentals such resolving disputed territories and oil sharing are contentiously debated, a weakening of the regions hands would be highly counter-productive.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Peyamner, Various Misc.

In one part of Iraq, democracy is not a new phenomenon

Much has been said about the advent of democracy in Iraq, however democracy in one part of Iraq, albeit not always in a perfect form, has been practiced since 1992.

With the run up to crucial parliamentary and presidential elections in the Kurdistan Region in July of this year, it provides a gauge to determine how far politics and democracy has evolved in the region. KRG Head of the Department of Foreign Relations, Falah Mustafa Bakir, hailed the upcoming elections as a chance for people to make key decisions and ensure the region is on the “right track”, while strongly advocating as many international observers as possible.

From fighting in the mountains to running in parliament, fundamental achievements have been made since 1991 but democracy is still hampered by key deficiencies and shortfalls such the judicial system, elements of corruption and bureaucracy. According to Bakir, the Kurds are witnessing a transitional phase in their history and “have started to build the path towards democracy but can not claim to have a perfect democratic experience yet”. However, Bakir stresses that his government has the political will and the determination to “go to the end of that road”.

Political opposition is increasing, and there are signs that even the two dominant Kurdish parties, Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) are evolving under pressure from changing times and increasing expectations of the people. There is somewhat of a notion of a conceptual battle between old schools of thought and new liberal minds in Kurdistan.

According to Dindar Zebari, Special KRG representative to the UN, the Kurds have been leading actors of democracy in Iraq, and believes the upcoming elections “serve as another commitment of Iraqi Kurds to the sovereignty and unity of the country”, while urging more international support for issues in Iraq and Kurdistan.

The KRG have perhaps been their worst critics at times. According to Bakir, they have acknowledged the need to highlight their deficiencies, seek solutions and consult with others in bridging gaps. Progression in the Kurdistan Region and Iraq according to Bakir “needs patience, effort and international support”.

Whilst it is easy to pick out failing in the Kurdish democratic experience, one must judge a subject within its context. With the exception of Turkey, which houses many constraints of its own, neighboring countries can hardly be classified as model democracies. Democracy in Iraq itself is flawed, with many constitutional stipulations voted by millions, such as article 140 failing to attract serious attention in its implementation

Although by their admission democracy in Kurdistan is far from perfect, achievements in less than two decades and particularly in the last six years have been noteworthy. No democracy has ever flourished without its pains and conflicts, and Kurdistan is no different.

The Kurds have suffered immeasurably under authoritarian Arab rule since the creation of the artificial state of Iraq. Finally free from the totalitarian grip of Saddam Hussein after immense sacrifice, Kurds were able to decide their own future and also showcase the virtue of self-determination that they had been deprived for so long.

And what better way to showcase your credentials for statehood and self-rule than show the world and your nemesis in the region that you are capable of a democracy and a way of governance that not only would be unique in Kurdistan as it would be a first, but one that could also serve as a benchmark for the rest of region.

Kurds have tried hard to implement a system of tolerance to other religions and ethnicities that they themselves have not received. Ever keen to attract a positive view from the West, Kurds have been keen to fight disputes such as over the city of Kirkuk, in a democratic manner to legitimize and bolster their experience.

In the time since its inception, the parliament has passed a number of important laws, covering women rights, press, economy, civil liberties and general society. The improvements in freedoms and laws since 2003 have been noticeable, for example with increasing rights for woman and increased government tolerance to opposition.

However, although at times too general, reports from human rights organizations have continued to highlight shortcomings in terms of the application of the rule of law, opposition and general freedoms. According to Zebari, these reports are taking “seriously” and the government has setup committees and reinforced their desire to bring “human rights to international standards”.

There is still an element of apprehension that the parliament is really supporting and serving the people.  There is a general consensus that parliamentarians have to be more attentive to public concerns and demands. Accountability must increase for this to be realized. For Zebari , “elections will add to the legitimacy of the setup of this region as elections always bring back credibility, transparency and trust, from the authorities to the people and vice versa.”

Moving forward, the Kurdistan parliament should work to become a reflection of the will of the people, and there must be a closer correlation between both sides. Politics must adapt to the people and environment and not the other way around.

First Published On: al-Arabiya News Network

Other Publication Sources: Kurdish Globe, eKurd, Online Opinion, Rudaw, PUK Media, Peyamner, Various Misc.