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.