Tag Archives: Kurdistan Reform

Moving forward in Kurdistan and setting the stage for change

As demonstrations and protests across Sulaimanyia rage past its third week, what is resoundingly clear is that the Kurdistan government needs a detailed plan of action to deal with grievances and to cater for the demands and voices of the people. Ultimately, it’s the people that sway governance, and leaders and politicians can only assume power based on jurisdiction, stewardship and mandate from the people.

At the end of the day, when the people talk the politicians must listen. The reason is simple, other than the evident fact that politicians are elected to serve the people, above all the very people that bring you to power, can just as easily take you off it. However, the basis for this is purely by democratic, constitutional and non-violent means.

Whilst an aurora of negativity and hopelessness has somewhat underpinned the current situation in Kurdistan, the events that have unfolded should be heralded as potentially serving as the crucial milestone in the democratic, political and social evolvement of the Region.

If utilised affectively, the much publicised protests and heated political discussions can serve as the launch pad to a greater Kurdistan.

All sides including the KRG have openly admitted the need for reform. It’s no secret that Kurdistan has many deficiencies that if not addressed pragmatically and systematically will hamper the Kurdish national existence.

The question is not whether Kurdistan needs reforms but it is finding common ground on what aspects require reform, the extent of the reforms and how the reforms will be implemented.

Any reform package needs to be unanimously agreed in parliament with clear responsibilities, timescales and no ambiguity in the mechanism for its implementation.

For this affective reform to take place, the ruling parties and the opposition must work closely together.  A balanced, constructive and partisan atmosphere is required for such motions to prove successful.

With the Gorran Movement facilitating as the first real opposition in Kurdistan, this was undoubtedly a major accomplishment in the Kurdish democratic lifecycle. An affective opposition is needed in any democracy to act as a check for the performance and actions of the government and to act as the pressure point to induce the government into real change.

The opposition should serve as a reminder to the ruling parties that should they fail, then there is another party ready to assume the mantle. The onset of opposition should highlight to the government that real results are needed, that they need to raise the bar in winning over the people and fulfilling electoral pledges, because if they don’t then a real competitor is ready to pounce.

Just take a look at the Labour party in the UK, after a number of landslide victories over the Conservative party, they were emphatically ousted last year as the people lost trust and patience, much as they had done with Tory rule prior to 1997. Now, the conservative led coalition is under fierce pressure to deliver on their election promises and ensure that reforms they have proposed are implemented affectively.

The labour party, far from downbeat, are already sharpening their political knives to win the people over once more.

However, Gorran has many deficiencies of its own in terms of its approach to assuming power and dismantling the current government. In this light, Gorran has failed thus far to showcase itself as a viable alternative power. Gorran lacks a clear programme or political manifesto to highlight what it intends to do once it is in power and exactly how they intend to enact the changes needed in Kurdistan that they supposedly epitomise.

Gorran needs to work more as a productive force than a destructive force in propelling the Kurdistan Region to new prominence and evolvement. What Kurdistan now needs is a national opposition party and not just a localised opposition movement. The elections in 2009 clearly showed that the KDP and PUK still mustered a significant support base.

The recent events in Sulaimanyia have illustrated the polarised nature of the Kurdish political landscape. Just this week, marking the 20th anniversary of the Kurdish uprising, one side of Sulaimanyia was in fierce protests whilst another PUK dominated side were waving political flags and orchestrating political rallies. When anti-government and pro-government camps become entrenched, it commonly highlights the lack of moderate voices and balanced approach to fermenting change and ultimately it is the people that suffer.

Clearly, those who state that the KRG has achieved nothing are short-sighted as are those who claim that the government has no deficiencies. There have been tremendous achievements in the Kurdistan Region in a short time period. However, this should in no way whatsoever serve as an excuse by the ruling parties to devolve, rest on their laurels and overlook the corruption, extensive bureaucracy, lack of public services and missing political accountability that is also rife.

As such the proposition by Kurdistan President Massaud Barzani to hold new elections must be embraced as a significant and bold step. It is just the right tonic to settle upset political stomachs in the region. This move, which was a clear stipulation by Gorran must endorsed and not diluted by further unrealistic demands. The calls by Gorran for the dissolution of the government prior to elections bear no weight.

This is the same government that was overwhelmingly elected by the people less than two years ago under the watchful eye of the international community. This government remains the legitimate authority of the Kurdistan people. In any Western country, even when there has been widespread condemnation of the government or a serious political storm where new elections have been called, governments have not been dissolved prior to the holding of the elections.

In an extraordinary session in parliament this week, the current KRG cabinet survived a vote of no confidence by a clear majority. Now the government needs to urgently investigate the unfortunate attacks on the media outlets, the attack on the KDP offices, the most tragic killing of a number of protestors and the burning of Gorran buildings.

Reform packages will not be implemented overnight or in mere weeks, it will likely be the job of the next elected government to carry out proposed reforms. In the meantime, now is when electoral campaigning should begin. All political parties should make clear their political manifesto and programmes and then it’s down to the people to ultimately decide who they trust to deliver to them.

New elections are an important step at this sensitive juncture as it’s a chance for political parties and politicians to renew oaths and validity with their people. Political parties need to retain the trust of the people and renew the mandate from the people to rule once more. This is why without new elections and clear choice of the people, the situation in Kurdistan will have deteriorated into a nightmare political scenario.

At the end of the day, the voice of the people either at the ballot box or on the streets doesn’t lie. Therefore, whoever wins the next elections is the undisputed choice of the people to run the next government.

The main political parties in Kurdistan should run on separate lists, this way it can be clear who attained the votes and ensure power is representative of the will of the people.  It also makes the election process more transparent by having clear choices on the electoral lists.

Regardless of who comes to power, there needs to be an impartial reform committee to oversee the proposed changes and reform packages on the table. Reform can only take place through the Kurdistan parliament and must have the overall consensus of all parties. Negotiations require moderation and compromise and can never be one-sided.

While positive seeds are potentially sown in Kurdistan in hoping of bringing evolvement, prosperity and new opportunity, it will be criminal to forget that Kurdistan is an entity that still suffers from great handicaps in Iraq and the Region. The stance of the Kurdish parties must be differentiated between the importance of serving Kurds in Kurdistan and the serving of Kurdistan in Iraq. Disunity at home must not be at the expense of Kurdistan national interests in Baghdad.

While key reforms are implemented in Kurdistan, the list of key demands made by Kurds in the Iraqi government negotiations must not be overlooked. The Kurdish politicians should be squarely held accountable if any of these 19 points are not achieved as much as the reform packages that need to be implemented internally.

Let there be no doubt to any Kurdish party, internal Kurdish issues can never be resolved in Baghdad. As a nation that fought bitterly for self-rule and federalism, Kurdish issues should remain within the Kurdistan parliament which was created for this clear purpose.

Its time for Kurdistan to move on and build for the future.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.

In the midst of a new Middle Eastern storm, Kurdistan needs evolution not revolution


A socio-political earthquake has arrived in the Middle East that threatens to bury a number of regimes and rulers with it.

The notion of transformation and democratisation in the Middle East has been a long-established taboo that has seemingly been smashed in a matter of weeks.

Much like the last wave of global political revolution that swept the world with the collapse of Communism in the early 90’s, the newest political hurricane has come in the Middle East with the dramatic ousting of Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali after 23 years in power providing the catalyst for change and popular uprisings.

When the majority combine, there is no greater weapon than the notion of people power. No amount of tanks or artillery can save a government when the masses relentlessly rise against them.

Emboldened by their neighbours, the current Egyptian protests and uprising gathers momentum with every passing day. After well over two weeks of fierce battles with police, clashes with pro-government supporters and emphatic anti-government rallies, the Egyptian people simply refuse to accept anything less than the end of the reign of Hosni Mubarak now. After much pressure finally Hosni Mubarak stepped down last Friday and Egyptian military took power.

Prior to Mubarak resignation the much pressurised government had already made a number of concessions and met with opposition groups in recent weeks but with an unabated thirst across the social spectrum and a national desire that has given them an unprecedented upper hand, the people refused to buckle.

Mubarak has had a tight grip on Egyptian society for over 30 years, with a state of emergency law that is still in force today. Politician opposition has been met with little tolerance, while corruption has been rife and freedoms have been restricted.

The successful “Jasmine revolution” of Tunisia has led to many a regional government looking over their shoulders. The threat of large scale protests and social upheaval has already seen some pre-emptive concessions in Jordan and Yemen, while anti-government rallies have been witnessed in Algeria.

Ironically, even as flag-bearers for democratisation and liberation in the region, such change was not necessarily embraced with open arms by the US at the beginning. As the protests gathered momentum and the will of the Egyptian people grew stronger, so did the calls of the Washington administration for controlled and more immediate change. There was certain reluctance to call for the removal of Mubarak altogether and later after Mubarak agreed not to stand for re-election in September, for him to leave office immediately.

The stance and support to regimes such as Mubarak, demonstrated the double-barrelled nature of US policy. As much as the need to stand against repressive regimes in the Middle East in the Cold War era was offset against the threat of communism, in the same way inconsistent American policy and stance towards the democratization of the Middle East today is offset against the new threat of Islamist radicalism.

The US is a long-time ally of Mubarak where they provided billions of dollars of aid and relied on his authority to maintain a sense of regional equilibrium. Israel is another party that eagerly anticipates how the new winds of change may affect its position in the Middle East and the Palestinian peace process. Like the US, it would have preferred for its relative ally in Mubarak to stay in power.

After all, change can be a loose term especially in the Middle East. A popular revolution happened in Iran in 1979, which the West even today try to reverse in some form or another.

The wave of change and optimism that is sweeping the region is just what is needed to shake age old mentalities and prevailing systems of government. The great fear for the West is to now ensure that vacuums are not filled by Islamists or the likes of Iran.

One thing is certain, the changes and social sentiment in Egypt are not reversal. The fear factor of people fed up with the status-quo has all but evaporated. With the advent of globalization, the world is exponentially smaller and the power of mass media means that events such as those in Egypt where thousands speak out simply can not be ignored.

The after-shock of the past four weeks in the Middle East will be felt for generations to come. Much like the slogan of Karl Marx that underpinned Communism, indeed the people “have nothing to lose but their chains”.

The tipping point in Tunisia and Egypt has been the stark degradation in social and economic welfare. High unemployment, soaring inflation and a lack of hope is the icing on the cake that has come with common repression, corruption and state control. When people deem that they have nothing to live for, they simply have nothing to lose.

Such economic conditions are not unique to Egypt and have plagued the likes of Yemen, Syria and Jordan. People are unwilling to endue suffering indefinitely when their governments and the minority upper class reap the rewards of their fate. People are less inclined to accept silence and are more knowledge in terms of demands and expectations.

Events in Egypt sparked a political row in Kurdistan when the Gorran opposition movement called for the dissolution of the current Kurdish government amongst other demands.

Whilst there are certainly many strides left to make in Kurdistan, democracy is much more advanced and the region simply can not be compared to Egypt. However, this doesn’t mean that the establish political elite in Kurdistan rest on their laurels and breath a sigh of relief.

Kurdistan is need of reform and this is by the own admission of the current governance. In addition to more transparency, advancement of independent media and a fight against corruption, the KRG needs to ensure the right economic foundations are in place.

While the economy in Kurdistan is growing at a rapid pace, their needs to be a firm eye on the ever growing rich-poor divide and the establishment of a more liberal market place. The rising cost of living in Kurdistan is an evident danger with ever increasing land and property prices. An unhealthy proportion of the public rely directly upon the government for employment and their day-to-day living, and this always risks becoming the basis of a future backlash.

While the demands by the Gorran movement were unrealistic and clearly designed to stoke anger and strong reactions from the ruling parties, any productive and healthy governance needs the right pressure socially and politically to proactively change. While the Kurdish government still enjoys strong public support, this can not be taken for granted. The main political parties realize that as much as they have a strong grounding for support, there are also plenty of those who oppose the government and could potentially cause political and social havoc.

At the end of the day, what Kurdistan needs is evolution and not a revolution. The region has made tremendous strides in a short time period but this is not excuse to stagnate, devolve and not to expand the democratic experience.

In any true democracy, it is the people that should continually pressurize the government for continual improvements. They are elected by the people to serve the people. Governments and political parties should adapt and change towards the people and common society and not the other way around.

As for the greater Middle East, the winds of change will not necessarily herald a peaceful and productive transition to a new reality. It will take much time and guidance to ensure the right kind of government and legislation takes the place of those that depart.

As we have witnessed in Iraq, democracy is not a “one size fits all” product that can be easily applied in midst of a legacy of repression.

Change will take time in the Middle East, but the current wave is a fresh breeze in the midst of mass repression and totalitarianism that has become the by-product of the region.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: eKurd, 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.

New political climate must not compromise Kurdistan

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.

Escalating tensions

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.

External actors

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.

Rising expectations

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.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Online Opinion, eKurd, Peyamner, Various Misc.

An affective judicial system is the best judge of a functioning civil democracy


An independent and modernized judicial system remains the best benchmark of a civilized democracy. Progress remains to be made, although the government have admittedly been their own worst critic and have outlined the importance of a sound and respected judicial system, and their belief in the supremacy of the law. A prominent judicial system remains an interdependent component of society; one without Kurdistan will never become the democracy or place of civil rights that its own high-expectations demand.

The shift to democracy in Iraqi Kurdistan has been at times shaky but nonetheless historic. The region swiftly moved from contrasting rules, one designated by the authoritarian governance of Saddam Hussein, where basic human rights let alone civil liberties were at a premium, to the self-rule under the auspices of a new Kurdish parliament.

This unique opportunity to guide their own future has witnessed a number of fundamental milestones on the path towards a functioning democracy, but also a number of flaws and setbacks that have at times plagued the move towards a concept of democracy that Kurds want to model on Western standards but one that they believe could also serve as model for the greater Middle East.

The post Saddam era from 2003, was the ideal platform for much needed progress and to kick start the democratic project. Under the international spotlight and with pressure from their US allies, Kurdish leadership could hardly let the unique juncture slip from their grasp.

One of the fundamental pinnacles of a functioning democracy and a successful society is an affective judicial system and this is an area where Iraqi Kurdistan has had many a critic. Admittedly and to their credit, perhaps the government has been their own worst critic in this regard.

Criticisms of the government

Human rights organizations have often criticized the region for corruption, abuse of power and lack of the application of the rule of law.

With law enforcement mechanisms that require strengthening, this has meant little accountability, and the ability of individuals to manipulate the judicial system at times.

A frequent allegation is manipulation of power by the two main political parties that dominate government.  Party associations even today mean that a level of immunity is afforded. There have been allegations of arrests without warrants and limited tolerance to opposition.

However, while stating the criticisms, one must also acknowledge the sound improvements that have been noted by international bodies and the productive progress that has been made on a range of issues.

The fulcrum of progressing on this range of issues and the cornerstone of ensuring that the rule of law is applied remains the presence of an affective and independent judicial system. The notion of an efficient judicial system is based on a number of intertwined aspects.

Firstly, the judicial system itself must be transparent and work within the remit of defined laws. It is only with the provision of such laws that the judicial system will have a roadmap and clear guidelines on to which to base the platform of its operations.

Although significant laws have been passed, especially in the last few years, there still lacks a greater basis for a working judicial system. Particularly before the downfall of the Iraqi regime in 2003, many of the laws applied in Iraq were based on Baathist laws at the time. This was hardly the ingredient or the inspiration for the model of civil democracy that the region craved.

For example, old Baathist press laws meant many journalists were imprisoned for criticism or accusations of “defamation”. For instance, under article 433 of the old law, many individuals were harshly punished.

Without a needed level of transparency and impartiality, at times court cases have been the subject of influence and judgments have been deemed arbitrary.

The key personnel of the system

The cornerstone of courts is the availability of experienced and independent judges. Many well known judges operate from the days of the Saddam Hussein regime and political interfere and influence of judiciary staffing naturally places the integrity of courts into question.

Judges should have the utmost credentials and integrity in the fulfillment of their important duty. Lawyers and Judges must themselves be protected by law. No judge or lawyer, however a controversial a case that they defend, should be a victims of the system themselves and become targets for abuse.

Training and qualification of judges must be an integral part of any government motion to shaping the judicial system.

Judges and lawyers must possess wide ranging knowledge, specifically in dealing with social and ethical issues. There must very clear guidelines and a transparent method for dealing with aspects such violence against woman, perjury and the abuse of power.

The title of judge carries a special responsibility and as such wrongdoing or corruption at this level, becomes a key frailty for all of greater society. As such impartiality is a firm prerequisite and courts and judges can only function and fulfill their duty when they work strictly within the remit of clearly defined laws.

Any outside interferences or corrupt judges should itself be punished by law.

Equal before the law

The fulcrum of the judicial system must be equality for all of the citizens that it serves. This virtue should be granted regardless of ones political background or ideology and regardless of their race or religion.

An effective judicial system can only work with a government committed in formulating the main rights of society and enshrining these into laws to ensure their protection. A civilized democratic system means the provision of freedom and rights and ensuring that they are protected.

Democracy and a functioning judicial system work hand in hand, the absence of any of them strongly promotes a system that can be distorted and manipulated to ones advantage against the loss of another. This is against the every essence of justice.

An affective and respected judicial system is the most effective deterrent to those who wish to break laws or abuse their legally attained powers. There should be no slip up or double standards in the application of law or the pressing of charges.

A court ensures that the rights of a person are protected and judges can make decisions on criminal and civil cases. Any criminal offenses or breakages of law should only be acted upon with the provision of evidence and relevant witnesses.

In any state, the police force is generally the body that protects the community from those who break the law, in other words they are the law enforcement body and the “guardians” of the civil society. Consequently the government must be the main sponsor in ensuring that breaks in law are dealt with in a systemic and non-prejudiced manner.

The judicial system should aim to serve the core aspect of justice and justice alone.

Government recognition and initiatives

Although at times progress has been slow, to their credit the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) have often openly discussed and acknowledged deficiencies.

The KRG has initiated a number of key measures to support the judicial system. For example, the establishment of the Kurdistan Judges Union in 2007 was an important benchmark that the KRG Prime Minister Nerchirvan Barzani hailed as an important step towards his goal of an independent judicial system.

Prime Minister Barzani painted a strong picture in his speech on the importance of a “strong, independent and impartial judicial system”. Without such concepts according to Prime Minister Barzani, “it (society) cannot become a socially progressive, modern or a civilized society, a politically prosperous or stable community, or a developed commercial or economic”. In other words the presence of a strong and respected judicial system envelopes almost every aspects of society.

According to Prime Minister Barzani, “an independent judicial system is one of the most important and remarkable features of a genuine civilized democratic system”.

KRG has often emphasized its reform programs and reaffirmed their commitment in building the kind of judicial system needed to carry the region forward. Prime Minister Barzani in particular has often spoken passionately about modernizing and creating a strong, respected and independent judicial system. However, reformation and implementation of initiatives has at times been slow 

In a speech at a meeting around rule of law capacity building plan in February 2009, Prime Minister Barzani outlined six steps that were deemed highly necessary in achieving their goals. This included judicial training, simplification of the judicial process, developing investigative skills and technology, improvements to the prison system, public education curricula and benefiting from international initiatives conducted in the Middle East.

Prime Minister Barzani has been bold and dedicated to the renovation of the judicial system project as a one of the pillars of government. At the same speech, he focused on the judicial system as a major interdependent component, who’s failure to be achieved could “…hold back progress across a range of issues.”

Current situation

While some allegation by critics that there is an absence of the rule of law is somewhat exaggerated, Kurdistan lacks a number of aspects in regards to the application of law and also in the current judicial setup.

A principle step would be the advent of an official constitution when it is finally passed in parliament. After all, the blueprint of a democratic society as well as a judicial system is the presence of a constitution. This is followed by the onset of key laws to protect the rights of society. Such laws form as the fuel on which to operate the judicial vehicle.

Judges can pass judgments and lawyers can defend cases, but the ground level of the judicial system and protection of the rights of every individual is an organized, professional and experienced police force.

The current saturation of security forces must be reorganized with a much clearer delineation based on those protecting the region i.e. the Kurdistan Army and those installed to serve the law and the ensure the rights of the people are protected and respected. The police force must be trained to collect evidence, follow strict protocol and treat every individual with equality and respect 

At the base of society, if the police themselves do not correspond to law or are not in turn subjected to the rule of law, then the main ‘guardian’ of the judicial system critically fails.

The onset of key laws

On the one hand, the implementation of the rule of law must be firm. On the other hand, the government must support and encourage bodies to form new laws and legislation.

Some of the key changes include ensuring that criminal records are kept for all individuals. Any act of harm or violence, outside of the right of defense as determined by law, should be punishable in due accordance with the case in question. Any undue harassment, infiltration or subjugation of any individual should be strongly discouraged by relevant laws.

Similar to European countries, Kurdistan must have a strong adherence to a high-way code to regulate traffic. Traffic offenses such as speeding, should be upheld, including introducing a points-system on licenses. Cars should not be driven that fail to pass important health and safety and environmental standards. Insurance for all drivers should be a prerequisite, to ensure protection for all citizens.

If people understand they can not “get away” with trespasses of the law or breaks in social boundaries, then such offenses will be naturally reduced. For instance, protection for woman has certainly increased in law, but more should be done to punish those who perpetrate domestic violence.

Critically, no matter how many laws are in place, if a climate of fear is not dropped then woman in particular will never be keen to approach the law enforcers. Currently many crimes go unpunished due to fear of reprisals.

Businesses operating outside of laws and regulations should be met with fines and reprimanded, for example selling of expired produce and medication or products that clearly do not meet quality standards.

Laws and regulations must not only take into account fundamental civil rights and freedoms, other offences that damage environment or private property should be contained within legislation. For example, littering is a serious issue in Kurdistan and should be punishable according to the guidelines of the law concerning the offence.

Laws surrounding general public life such littering and motor regulations, should be clearly marked with appropriate sign-posts in public locations. Other rights of an individual should be communicated via other relevant mediums. People must be aware of their rights in a free civil society as well as their obligations in turn to the same society.

Non-governmental organizations

The best way to “police” or oversee governorate bodies or the police itself is the encouragement and support for non-governmental organizations (NGOs). In principle, the KRG has been very open when it comes to scrutiny from international bodies and has strived for improvement at consistent intervals. However, the advent of truly independent and unhindered NGO bodies within the Kurdistan region, who work under the protection of the law, is highly essential. Kurdish NGO’s have often complained of interference and obstacles in the fulfillment of their work.

Such independent bodies are arguably the best gauge on which to analyze civil liberties of society and to evaluate the integrity of the judicial system. Similar to NGO’s, trade unions should be encouraged in the quest for attaining a modern civil society.  Trade Unions should be independent and serve a broad range of interests.

The knowledge of a security and police force that has integrity and is itself not immune to the law is the best signal to society.

In Kurdistan, often who you know goes a long way. However, breaks in law should not be masked by one’s status. Cases were breaks in law are condoned or are “erased” due to influences higher up, should itself come under strong scrutiny and the law, without ramifications.

Economic and investment

Judicial system does not merely apply to ensuring civil rights, protection of freedoms and bringing criminals to justice. The judicial system must also strongly protect aspects of business and investment.

The economy is booming in Kurdistan and business interest is building rapidly, however for the government realization of strong foreign investment to take off, foreign companies must have the assurance that they are strongly protected under Kurdish law.

Furthermore, Kurdish business itself must be regulated and protected by law and clear guidelines. This ensures fiscal corruption is limited and no business can operate outside of the law or at the expense of another. Ensuring free trade in business is much like ensuring freedom in civil society.

Freedom and equality runs deep in business too. There will undoubtedly be lawsuits against business, but for the evolvement of Kurdish society, employees must be protected. This includes cases of wrongful dismal, sexual harassment or discrimination. These are all aspects that are protected by law in Western societies.

In reality, the move towards a western model of democracy and civil society will take time. However, the main factor for the KRG is to develop the foundations with great care. Its not east for a region that has only gained self rule for a very short period of time and in a historically hostile region, to meet their own high-expectations all too easily.

The first step is to change the mindset of the population and win their trust that breaks in law will be dealt with equitably, seriously and without exception.

The road to fulfillment of goals

By the lofty standards that they have set and improvements they have openly discussed, the government is still on the road to fulfillment but the journey has many strides to go.

Achievement and modernization, especially in a short period of time, is not easy but half the battle is a realization of your failings and discussing them in clear and frank terms. The other half of the battle may take time, but needs to be driven consistently and with determination.

Recent legislation to enhance judicial independence is most welcome, but this is only one cog in the greater judicial machine. The other cog is strengthening of sources of law that regulate rights, and sources that also serve to determine the level of punishment. As discussed, the principle of the rule of law must be clear and consistent, no matter the background, affiliation or status of an individual.

The most component, however, of the judicial vehicle are of course the drivers themselves. Without proficient, dedicated and highly respected judges and lawyers with the utmost integrity, the new all conquering judicial machine will simply stall.

With the onset and encouragement of NGO’s and regulatory authorities, this will further ensure that not only does the region have a productive and efficient judiciary system, but also one that is transparent, openly works independently, consistently and that itself functions to the rule of law.

As such individuals should have the right to retrials and appeals, and the system should be clear for taking cases to higher courts or even international courts.

After the fall of the brutal Saddam dictatorship, Iraqis chose the courts as the method to inflict justice. Justice through civilized channels echoes more strongly than any other form of retribution.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Peyamner, Various Misc.

As Kurdistan Government battles back against damning Amnesty International Report, the truth may well be somewhere in the middle.

Human rights organization, Amnesty International, issued a new report on Kurdistan Region based on a fact finding mission in 2008. Whilst sounding improvements in the region, the main sway of the report was a warning that Kurdish security forces operate “beyond the rule of law”.

In a stark disapproval, Ismat Argushi, General Director of Security in Erbil, accused Amnesty international of hypocrisy, the use of outdated chronicles in allegations and lack of proof or evidence in some of the proposed cases.

Whilst one must assess the report by Amnesty International and the subsequent statement by General Director of Security in Erbil in due course and merit, the truth in reality is somewhere down the middle.

Kurdistan Region has taken remarkable steps since their hard-fought gains towards autonomy with a transition towards a system of democracy that is not only a first for Kurdistan, but is also new in Iraq. While advances have been made, the shortfalls and setbacks are obvious. Democracy and civil society is still in a period of infancy, and no democracy or nation renowned for human rights have reached the levels of today without their due teething-problems, obstacles and periods of instability.

Any reports by right organizations, Amnesty International or not, must address the subject firmly within its context. It’s very easy to pick out all the failings of a democracy and governance, who are although taking rapid steps towards modern society still have fundamental shortfalls that they have openly admitted that they are addressing.

In particular, in the post Saddam years since 2003, the Kurdistan Region has made strong strides in a number of areas with the advent of new laws around the media,  preservation of woman rights and protection of ethnic minorities. In many respects, particularly the rights of women and secular institutions, Kurdistan is much better placed than their Iraqi counterparts further south or some of their neighboring countries. Again when judging a subject within its context, one can see Kurdistan has some of most liberal press laws in the region.

The report by Amnesty International accused the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of failing to significantly diminish the powers of the Asayish, especially the Parastin and the Dezgay Zanyari securities agencies of the two main ruling parties in Kurdistan, KDP and PUK.

The report highlights the relative stability in the region compared with the violence further south, whilst acknowledging it has “made some important human rights advances”. However, according to Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Programme Director, this should not mask the fact that “real problems” remain in the region, including “…arbitrary detention and torture, attacks on journalists and freedom of expression, and violence against women…” Amnesty International has urged the KRG to address these matters immediately and hold those responsible for human rights violations, “The KRG must take concrete steps to rein in these forces and make them fully accountable under the law if recent human rights gains are to prove effective,” said Smart.

While noting that the number of cases of detainees without charge or trial had dropped from thousands to hundreds, it concluded that cases of torture in custody remained high. The authorities must do more to uphold media freedom according to the report, whilst pointing to the need to “…redouble their efforts to overcome discrimination and violence against women”, citing cases of honor killings, violence and subordination.

The broad allegations by Amnesty International, was largely rebuked by the detailed statement released by Argushi. 

The perception of the statement was that the generalized nature of the report was not an accurate reflection on developments in the region in recent years and in particular was misleading to base some cases on old Baathist penal systems. The statement emphasized the government stance toward the importance of the rule of law and highlighted how the appointed legislative bodies had subsequently worked towards “…to draft new criminal codes in-line with international standards.”

The statement points to the “positive and encouraging steps” acknowledged in the report and specifically emphasized steps taken on a number of aspects of civil society and the rule of law in the quest to move toward a healthy democracy. Argushi believes “…this clearly demonstrates the KRG’s serious, concerted efforts to hold ourselves to the highest international standards on these issues”.

The statement in particular defends the Asayish, who were the main subjects of criticism, showcasing their “openness” and the fact they do not operate outside of the law. The statement showcased the strong government stance against the use of torture and the mechanisms available to punish the abuse of authority.

The Kurdistan Region has been very keen to move towards a more Western model of democracy and civil liberty. Human rights are something that the Kurds understand very well, after all it is a notion that they have been deprived from for so long. However, aspiration is one thing and advancement and attainment is another.

Whilst the Kurdistan Region has set these high-expectations, this doesn’t mean they can be achieved without its share of pains and criticism. However, in turn only with the acceptance of constructive criticism can such lofty heights be reached.

In the Kurdistan Region, minority representation is beyond the rest of Iraq and the greater region. When the rest of the country is ubiquitously bogged in violence and sectarian bloodshed, the security apparatus will never work perfectly, especially in the tough hostile political climate that is Iraq.

On their part, the Kurdistan Region should work towards eradicating the level of notoriety currently around the Asayish and some elements of freedom. A continued level of transparency is needed and region must in general at least demonstrate solid progress in any future report.

On the part of Amnesty International, it is very easy to be hyper-critical when you represent the sacred life and rights of a human been. However, even in a place like US, if one should delve deep into the subject matter, the police and security forces would come under heavy scrutiny. Even today there are cases of police racism and detainment of terrorism suspects under the harshest of conditions.

Let’s not forget a modern democracy such as Turkey with hopes and aspiration to join the elite EU club, has some of the notorious human rights records in the region, and long denied even the existence of a large section of its population.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Peyamner, Various Misc.

A Look at Democracy in Kurdistan

From fighting in the mountains to running in parliament, fundamental achievements have been made since 1991 but democracy is still bogged by changing times, factional alliances and increasing expectations of the people.

To state that 1991 was a unique milestone in Kurdish history is perhaps the understatement of the century, for the Kurds, quite literally.

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 now 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.

Sometimes the best way to highlight what your enemies fail to give you is to implement it yourself. Kurds have tried hard to implement a system of tolerance to other religions and ethnicities that they themselves have not received. Where their democratic liberties have been deprived, they have chosen to win back their lost rights such as over the city of Kirkuk, in a democratic manner than by using the same force that their enemies would have used on them.

Iraqi Kurdistan legislative elections of 1992

On May 19th 1992, history was made as the first ever elections were successfully held in Iraqi Kurdistan. For the first time, the Kurdish people could choose who they voted for as elections were made to the Kurdistan National Assembly (KNA), the parliament of the Kurdistan Region. It was not only the first ever elections in Kurdistan, but was also the first free and fair parliamentary elections in Iraq itself.

105 seats were made available in the KNA with 5 seats reserved for the Assyrian community. The 7% threshold that political parties had to achieve ensured that the seats were contested between the two main parties in Kurdistan, Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) led alliance. This system naturally alienated some parties such as the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan (who achieved just over 5% of the vote), and this later contributed to difficulties with Islamists in later years.

Though the KDP had won 51 seats and the PUK alliance 49 seats, it was agreed to share power 50-50. The first law was passed by the assembly a few months later, establishing it as the region’s legislature. 

The elections were clearly a monumental achievement for a region that had fought hard to see such an elusive day, and was well commended by a number of international observers.

However, for all the early promise, democracy in Kurdistan fast displayed a number of fundamental flaws as the infant roots of democracy in the region would soon haunt the short-lived gains.  

Civil war and the stalling of democracy

The euphoria around the recently won freedoms and the historical milestone of democratic elections soon turned sour. A number of differences soon resulted in perhaps one of the most unforgettable events in Kurdish history, as a bloody civil war between the PDK and PUK Peshmerga forces raged between 1994 and1997.

In the period around the civil war, and the ensuing years after it, democracy suffered a major setback in Kurdistan. The deep rifts between Massaud Barzani, who narrowly won the presidential elections that were conjointly held in 1992, and Jalal Talabani, resulted in control of Erbil changing hands between both sides on a number of occasions

Iraqi Kurdistan was then affectively split into two administrations, one PUK controlled from Suleimanyia and one PDK based from Erbil. The de facto delineation between both administrations naturally diluted full democratic practices. This period saw freedoms restricted and a tense political climate in the two major cities. Tolerance for supporters of each group in opposing regions was minimal.

A UN embargo on Iraq coupled with Saddam’s own brutal economic impediment on the region, further compounded matters in the region.

This was made worse, as Kurdistan at the time before UN oil for food program, suffered from inflation and lack of commerce and basic necessities.

However, with the UN agreeing to permit authorized oil exports in Iraq, on the provision of aid to the people, this brought a welcome relief for the Kurdish people. A 13% share of oil revenues, and custom duties from trade with Turkey, brought welcome income to kick-start much needed development in the region.

Washington Accord

Although no major fighting took place after 1st September 1996, it was much a case of no war and no peace. This was until a peace deal, referred to as the Washington Accord, was brokered under the auspices of the Clinton administration, that saw both the PDK and PUK agreeing to a transitional power sharing followed by elections,  equitable distribution of revenues and the easing of restriction of movement between their regions.

With the Kurds extremely keen to win support for long-term Kurdish autonomy, there was little room for a lack of reconciliation.

In spite of the agreement, the thawing of ties was very much at a leisurely rate and animosity remained. Implementation of the accord was stalled by disputes over revenue and the format of the proposed joint administration.

In 2001, the administrations finally resumed formal dialogue and eased restriction of travel. The two sides moved quicker to resolve their differences with the emergence of a militant Islamist group, Ansar al-Islam with ties to al-Qaeda. Reconciliation was deepened further with US plans for the removal of Saddam from power in 2002. Barzani and Talabani had the first face-to-face dialogue in this time for seven years.

The Kurdish parliament convened later that year for the first time since 1994 to implement the Washington Accord and get the ball for legislative elections rolling.

General elections were not held until 2005, almost 13 full years since the landmark elections of 1992 that offered much hope to a nation that was already ravaged by repression and war, but delivered setbacks.

Changing political climate post 2003

Although a grainier form of democracy was still practiced with relative civil liberties and municipal elections in opposing administrations, it was hardly in a commendable shape prior to 2003. The fall of Saddam Hussein and the second Gulf War, not only brought unprecedented elections to Iraq, but also kick started democracy in Kurdistan.

With the removal of Saddam Hussein and all the prospects of a new Iraq, Kurdish leaders were at a unique juncture. Under full international view placated by a growing threat from the Turkish government over ever-increasing Kurdish ambitions at the dawn of their new era, Kurds could ill-afford not to represent a united front lest waste an opportunity to promote a strong brand of democracy in their region, as Iraq hit the international spotlight. A united front was encouraged by the US, with strong ties and a reliance on Iraqi Kurds, as their Iraqi adventure was soon derailed.

Elections to the KNA were held on 30th January 2005, to coincide with the Iraqi elections and elections to the provincial elections. The turnout was high as over 1.7 million people voted. There were 111 seats contested in the elections via a system of proportional representation. This time the PDK and PUK united under one list, the Democratic Patriotic Alliance of Kurdistan, attaining 104 seats or just over 89% of the votes.

The alliance, at least on paper, forged a strong unity across a number of parties, including the Kurdistan Islamic Union, Turkmen Party and other minority parties.

Current state of democracy

Although the democratic system in Kurdistan is far from perfect, achievements in less than 2 decades and particularly in the last 6 years have been historic. No democracy has ever flourished without its pains and conflicts, and Kurdistan is no different.

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

Elections for the KNA are to be held every four years as stipulated in article 8 of the Kurdistan Electoral Law. Elections for the KNA are based on a closed party-list representation system, meaning that the electorate votes for the list of candidates of a party rather than individual candidates. Seats are allocated to each party in proportion to the number of votes it receives, and the party is then free to choose someone from its candidate list.

Amongst the main highlights of the Kurdish democratic experience is that the system of government is secular, freedom and practice of faith are high and there is a strong encouragement for wide representation across ethnicities in the region. As an example, there is a liberal attitude to alcohol consumption, wearing of head-scarves and public expression of love.

The current system ensures that if no party representing a minority wins a seat, one seat is automatically awarded to that minority (for example, Assyrians, Chaldeans or Turkmen). There is currently one independent and 14 political parties represented in the KNA.

Another fundamental benefit in the current system is the strong representation for women with the legal requirement that at least 25% of the parliamentarians must be women.

The passing of several laws has heavily contributed to the regions relative economic progress and social progression in recent years. Politicians have been generally quick to adapt laws to accommodate the present socioeconomic environment and modernize the legislative aspects of the region in line with modern-day demands, for example a European standard investment law, the outlawing of polygamous marriages and increasing intolerance to honor killings.

Although, the KRG has evolved a great deal of the past few years, high expectations of the people, means that the government will need to continuously adapt to meet the growing pressure from the public.

For example, an open party listing where people can choose their candidates is strongly advocated. Such a system, were individuals are directly voted into parliament, puts the people more in choice of their democracy and at the same time places pressure on politicians to serve the very people, who have purposely selected him to full his duty.

Flaws of the democratic system

Although, the achievements have been commendable in a short period of time, there are also a number of flaws in the application of democracy in Kurdistan. Elements of corruption still exist in government and nepotism has been an all-too frequent criticism. Although, the major cities have seen major economic boom and construction projects, basic services are still lacking across the social spectrum. The increasing economic prosperity, has created a growing rich-list and depending on where you visit in Erbil, there is a contrasting standard of living amongst the citizens.

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.

In the West, where politicians make mistakes or attract controversy, their political careers are often quickly doomed and public enquiries are launched. However, this level of accountability to perform, answer to mistakes and actions and generally deliver under great public strain is somewhat lacking.

However, to truly augment the democratic process, the availability of an experienced and proficient pool of politicians to create a vibrant level of competition and opposition takes time. The transition from been freedom fighters in the mountains, to running a Western democracy is hardly a small gap to plug.

Regional expertise and intellectualism has improved significantly, aided by an educated and developing Diaspora. As the people become more accustomed to rights, freedoms and privileges, this has increased pressure on the government to raise parliamentary standards.

The parliament must respond to the will and voice of the people, which is not always the case in Kurdistan.

However, one must also 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.

At least in Kurdistan minorities have representation, for decades the Kurds, forming a large part of the population of Turkey did not have a single voice in the Turkish parliament. Even today, cultural tolerance is hardly to a European standard, and this comes from a country who has received wide-scale credit as a strong example of an Islamic democracy and with ambitions to join the EU.

With a good level of religious and social tolerance and a ubiquitous aim of attracting support from major global powers, it is evident that Kurdish leaders have obviously tried hard to implement a system of government that is closer to the West than the geographically closer East.

The need for adaptation and evolvement

Democratic elections in Kurdistan are to a large extent predictable. Much like the US where certain states have become beacons of support for either the Democrats or Republicans, there is a general affiliation across parts of the region for either PDK or PUK. You can almost determine a rough geographical electoral line between the PDK and PUK.

However, although there have been criticism in the past of a lack of political opposition, there are signs that some political parties are evolving.  For example, recent instability in the PUK alliances briefly resulted in strong rumors of the splitting up of the party.

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.

At times in Kurdistan, it is who you know and not who you are that will help in your progress. Commerce, investments and administration still runs deeply through government. For example set up of companies, buying of land and the majority of the workforce is under the direct employment and jurisdiction of the government.

Growing freedoms in Kurdistan can be seen in the wide range of liberal papers, which are growingly confident in constructive criticism and opposition to the government and in the debate of regional affairs. Although, Kurdistan could tout a flourishing press since it won autonomy, too often they were mouthpieces or under the control of political parties. As a result, there was little room for independents without approval from government authorities.

The next elections in Kurdistan are just around the corner, May 2009 to be exact, and it serves to be an interesting reflection of the feeling of the people in the last 4 years or so. There is still a notion of a conceptual battle between the old school of thought and new liberal minds in Kurdistan.

Democracy in Kurdistan may not be perfect but Western democracy was not created in 2 decades. Even democracy in the US and recently in Europe, resulted in the rise of extremists to power and the manipulation of democratic systems, and the onset of deadly wars. Only these painful mental scars contributed to the efficient, tolerant and dynamic Western forms of democracy.

In an imperfect region, it is hardly fair to scrutinize Kurdish democracy and pick out its evident failing in a sea of political and social progression in the region in a short period of time. However this is no means an excuse for Kurdish politicians to rest on their laurels and not strive to improve the region, politic establishments and in the way the serve the very entity they have been created for, the people.

Just because Western democracy learned the hard-way by decades of evolution and adaptation amidst changing global climates, Kurdish politicians must not use this as an excuse to drag their feet on the advancement of democracy in the region. Time is not always a pertinent excuse for failings, if the failings are visible. There is nothing to say with tweaks and evolution, that Kurdistan will not become a model democracy across the global sphere and just the Middle East, in a much shorter time span than by most global standards.

However, we must not also forget that democracy in Kurdistan is to a great extent intertwined with democracy in Iraq, as they are officially part of one state. Democracy in Iraq is far from perfect and when it comes to the practice of federal democracy, such as the implementation of national legislations and an elected constitution, it takes two to tango.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Hewler Post (Kurdish), Online Opinion, eKurd, Peyamner, Various Misc.

Kurdish Authorities Welcome CPJ Report on Kurdish Press

While the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has received much praise and attention as an oasis of peace and economic prosperity, particularly in contrast to an Iraq blighted by turmoil, one of the criticisms has been a lack of a fully liberal press.

Although a blossoming media has been witnessed in a relatively short period, with hundreds of publications in circulation at the present time, certain obstacles have tainted what is in essence a remarkable turna­round from the highly repressed state of the media un­der Baathist rule.

Reports on the state of journalism in Kurdistan have often criticized the government for harassment, de­tainment, and even physical abuse of journalists. Some widely reported cases have somewhat tarnished the overall image of the press. The government has been criticised for applying press laws from the Saddam era and for the general lack of independent publications. 

At the present time, most of the funding for the press is provided by political entities and the regional gov­ernment. With a lack of alternatives for funding, pub­lications are often under the de-facto hegemony of the government.

In recent developments, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), after conducting a fact-finding mis­sion, called on the Kurdistan Region leadership to immediately adopt a number of recommendations. In essence, it called for public condemnation of acts of violence or intimidation, the end of detainment of jour­nalists, to eradicate cases of threats and interference and ensure proposed KRG press laws abide by Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, where Iraq is a state party.

The recommendations also called for the suspension of the penal code that criminalizes defamation, insult, slander, and the publication of “false” information.

The suggestions by the CPJ were designed to press the Kurdish government not to pass or sign into law any bill that contains aforementioned measures or that may contravene established international press stand­ards.

Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani wel­comed the report by the CPJ. While acknowledging shortcomings, he highlighted the progress toward “greater liberties” and the ongoing evolution “…to­ward complete freedom.”

While acknowledging the government’s role in facili­tating a free press, he reiterated the importance of clear guidelines which the new bill, currently under discus­sion by the Kurdistan National Assembly, must serve to journalists and the responsibility of journalists on their part in ensuring a high level of professionalism, ethics, and also understanding and respect of the cli­mate in which they write.

Clearly, while it is easy to blame the government, the overall standard of reporting also requires focus.

Journalism has come a long way in Kurdistan, but the progression toward a Western-style press, particularly in the volatile Middle Eastern sociopolitical climate, will undoubtedly take time.

In conclusion, CPJ representatives credited the Kurdistan Region for taking positive steps toward es­tablishing greater freedoms.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Peyamner, Various Misc.