Kurdish Democracy's Biggest Test Yet

The next few weeks and months will be a significant period in Kurdistan Region politics and the biggest test of Kurdish democracy. What happens in the next election and how it is handled by Kurdish politicians from all sides is crucial.

Kurdistan Region president, Massoud Barzani has set the date for the next Kurdish general election at 21 September 2013. Both parliamentary and presidential elections will be held on that date.

The candidates running for president have not put their names forward yet, apart from one independent. On the parliamentary front, it is almost confirmed that both incumbent parties, PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) and KDP (Kurdistan Democratic Party) will not be running on one List as they done in the past but run independently. The separate Lists may not be very significant as there seem to be an understanding that they will form a government after the election, very similar to the current arrangement, if they win.

Various reports suggest that the more left leaning PUK is keener on running separately as it feels that it is losing the vote from the younger generation if aligned to the conservative KDP. After months of negotiations between the two parties, they decided to go forward separately but keep the strategic agreement which they both signed after years of division and conflict. The survival of the agreement is a welcomed news and possibly essential at this stage for Kurdistan Region stability.

The main beneficiary will be PUK as it also hopes to attracted disgruntled PUK voter whom voted for Gorran (Change Movement) - a splinter group from PUK lead by former PUK deputy leader and now largest opposition party- in the last elections. KDP on the other hand is less happy with the arrangement because it would like to remain the number one party in Kurdistan and an increased PUK vote will dent its influence. PUK members are trying to distance themselves form, KDP, the opposite members are making sure the electorate knows that both parties will be in coalition after next elections.

Although the parliamentary elections appear to have been agreed on, the local elections are well overdue and there are two major issues rumbling in the background; presidential candidacy and the various constitutional concerns.

Gorran which is by far the largest opposition party wants the constitution changed and in favour of a parliamentary system in Kurdistan Region, curtailing the president's powers. PUK appears to support that position and their leader, Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani reportedly agreed with Gorran leader, Nawshirwan Mustafa to support the constructional changes but since Talabni fell ill, the proposals have not been discussed further.

The constitutional changes may take a back seat for now but the other constitution matter will be discussed. According to current Kurdistan Region presidential Law, the President is limited to two terms. Although at this stage it is not clear if Barzani will be seeking a third term, but given the rhetoric, it is likely. The argument by Barzani supporters seems to focus on the fact that the law was enacted while serving his first term, hence the first term does not count as a full term. This is fiercely disputed by the opposition parties and so far not clear what PUK's position is on the matter.

KDP's preferred candidate is the current president, Massud Barzani, but what is not clear is how the presidential candidacy will work given PUK and KDP are running separately in the parliamentary elections. The other electable option for KDP will be Current KRG PM, Nechirvan Barzani, although unlikely at this stage given the Barzani family dynamics.

The opposition are in the process of choosing their own presidential candidate and if they agree on an electable candidate, they could have a real chance; however, so far no credible candidate has emerged and sign of agreement.

The arrangement since 2003 has been that KDP will have a candidate for Kurdistan president and PUK will have Iraqi presidency. Currently all indications are that KDP will put a candidate forward, unless there is a change where KDP get the Iraqi presidency post given the uncertainty around Talibani's heath.

PUK are in disarray since Talabani fell ill as he was the glue binding the party together and if they have to choose a candidate, the only electable candidate will be the previous KRG PM, Barham Salih. Given the dynamics within PUK and internal disputes, PUK may choose to stay as it is, waiting for its leader to recover before making any major decisions.

The next few weeks and months will be a significant period in Kurdistan Region politics and the biggest test of Kurdish democracy. What happens in the next election and how it is handled by Kurdish politicians from all sides is crucial. Getting it right and following the spirit of the law not only the letter, will establish a strong foundation for Kurdish democracy, otherwise, if mishandled, it will uproot the fragile foundation.


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