Kurdistan’s hour of reckoning

Since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, the Kurdistan Region has risen in prominence and prosperity on a continuous basis. The region was transformed in a short period of time but no project is ever smooth-sailing in the volatile Middle East and Kurdistan faces new obstacles and perils that threaten to derail its development.

Since January 2014, numerous new challenges have come to the fore. An economic crisis has been in motion since former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki stopped budget payments to Kurdistan. Even under new premier Haider al-Abadi these budget payments have been rarely on time let alone to the full allocation, in spite of an oil export agreement that was struck in December 2014 but rapidly disintegrated.

Even as Kurdistan has started oil exports independently, plummeting oil prices have only added to the economic woe – not least due to the 1.8 million refugees residing in Kurdistan and in turn threatening the demographic make-up of the region and the brutal war with the Islamic State (IS) since June 2014 that stretches across a 1000km border.

Add Turkey resuming bombardment of the PKK in Kurdistan territory and the situation in Turkey ominously pointing to a return to the dark days of the 1990’s, and you would think that Kurdistan has more of it share of headaches and struggles.

However, the icing on the cake of the pressures facing Kurdistan is a bitter political feud over the fate of Massoud Barzani whose presidential term expired on 20th August with the main political parties no closer to a resolution over the fate of the presidency.

The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) has sought a second extension of Barzani’s presidency after the current one expired citing the precarious predicament facing the region.

On the other hand, the Change Movement (Gorran) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and other political parties are not only opposed to any extension but are simultaneously promoting a change to the presidential system, meaning that the president would be selected by and accountable to the parliament in the future as opposed to selection by a popular vote, thereby seeking to dilute presidential powers.

Discussions have painstakingly dragged on and no consensus remains in sight for now. Gorran have insisted that the parliament speaker fills the void as interim President until elections can be held but the KDP are adamant that no such vacuum exists and that until consensus can be reached between all parties, Barzani remains as president with full powers.

The disappointing situation casts an unavoidable shadow over Kurdistan and side-steps from the core issue of fighting IS and resolving the economic hardships. It begs the question why the political parties could not reach consensus in the two years since Barzani’s term was first extended and why difficult negotiations at the eleventh hour are required.

No one can deny that Barzani cannot remain President indefinitely. However, other than various crises facing the region that demands stability and unity, it is not clear who the real candidates are for the role as president and when any voting can be held.

The US and European allies have favored continuity over any uncertainty that may undermine the crucial role played by the Kurds in the fight against IS.

In any case, not matter what is eventually agreed, the region must address the issues today and not postpone them yet again – it need a clear political roadmap and avoid last minute crisis.

If the presidential system is to be changed, then it must be via the appropriate parliamentary and democratic channels.

Democracy is indeed a process of evolution and Kurdistan has the opportunity to show its political maturity and enshrine its status as a major strategic force of the new Middle Eastern landscape. It’s time to demonstrate readiness to become fully independent and serve as a beacon of hope to the rest of the Middle East.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

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