A new politi­cian dawn for Kur­dis­tan, and its ram­i­fi­ca­tions

The Kurdish Globe - - NEWS - By Bash­dar Pusho Is­maeel

The Kur­dis­tan par­lia­men­tary elec­tions of 2013 promised to mark a his­tor­i­cal mile­stone in the po­lit­i­cal and demo­cratic de­vel­op­ment of Kur­dis­tan, and this they did.

Kur­dis­tan has moved from the pre­dictabil­ity of the KDP-PUK du­op­oly, whereby con­trol of the Kur­dish po­lit­i­cal sphere was vir­tu­ally split down the mid­dle, to a new po­lit­i­cal hori­zon with healthier com­pe­ti­tion and a de­sire for dif­fer­ent per­mu­ta­tions and al­liances.

This du­op­oly broke up in 2009 when the emer­gence of the Move­ment for Change (Gor­ran) added a pre­vi­ously un­prece­dented el­e­ment of op­po­si­tion to the gov­ern­ing of Kur­dis­tan.

Gor­ran’s gains were at the ex­pense of the PUK in their tra­di­tional Su­laimaniya strong­hold, and this proved to be a re­cur­ring theme in 2013.

As most com­men­ta­tors ex­pected, the KDP proved the over­all win­ners at the polls, with pre­lim­i­nary re­sults in­di­cat­ing that they took over 37.5% of the vote. Cru­cially, given the more bal­anced na­ture of the elec­toral out­come, the KDP must work with other par­ties, in­clud­ing Gor­ran, to form a new Cab­i­net.

There has been much dis­cus­sion of the demise of the PUK, but the fall of the erst­while joint rulers of Kur­dis­tan to third place re­ally can­not be un­der­es­ti­mated.

With the end of the Strate­gic Agree­ment, the PUK’s fail­ings could no longer be veiled by the prospect of a coali­tion list with the KDP, as was the case in re­cent years. Run­ning in­de­pen­dently meant that the strength of each party was eas­ier to gauge.

How­ever, talk of the PUK as a newly weak or in­signif­i­cant ac­tor is pre­ma­ture. Al­though one po­lit­i­cal door has closed, with the right lead­er­ship, strat­egy and re­solve many new doors can still be opened.

How­ever, any PUK re­vival must be un­der­pinned by for­ward think­ing and the new re­al­ity, not by its past sta­tus. In this light, al­though the KDP clearly prefers to keep its part­ner­ship with the PUK in­tact and form a new cab­i­net with the Kur­dis­tan Is­lamic Union, this may do it more harm than good in the long term.

The Strate­gic Agree­ment may have made sense when the KDP and PUK were on a roughly equal foot­ing, the re­gion was ef­fec­tively split into two ad­min­is­tra­tions, and the gov­ern­ment was split into two terms, but the rules have changed and the PUK would now have to op­er­ate on new terms within a KDP­dom­i­nated um­brella of poli­cies.

The PUK and KDP have many his­tor­i­cal dif­fer­ences which ex­tend to po­lit­i­cal ide­ol­ogy, the con­trol of se­cu­rity forces, for­eign al­liances and gov­ern­ment poli­cies. With a weaker PUK, th­ese dif­fer­ence can no longer be un­der­played.

The PUK can serve as an ef­fec­tive force in op­po­si­tion. As Gor­ran has shown, the op­po­si­tion tag can be a key mag­net for those seek­ing a new, vi­tal voice in Kur­dis­tan. Much could change over the next four years, and a move into op­po­si­tion would al­low the PUK to re­group, lick its wounds and move on.

To their credit, the PUK lead­ers have been quick to ac­knowl­edge their dis­ap­point­ment with the re­sults, and to ac­knowl­edge that a new re­al­ity beck­ons. The loyal PUK voter base would pre­fer to ac­cept this new dawn and en­gage in a new fight than con­tinue its out­dated, and now un­even, strate­gic al­liance with the KDP.

As for Gor­ran, their sta­tus as the sec­ond largest party in Kur­dis­tan is a re­mark­able feat. How­ever, like the PUK, they are about to em­bark on a new chap­ter in their his­tory and will have to em­brace a new iden­tity. How they fare with their new sta­tus and po­lit­i­cal clout will de­ter­mine whether they can con­tinue to grow as a po­lit­i­cal force or suf­fer losses to their sup­port base over the next four years.

Gor­ran are in a tricky po­si­tion. With such a large pro­por­tion of the votes, its sup­port base does not ex­pect them to con­tinue to work on the pe­riph­ery of power as an op­po­si­tion force. At the same time, join­ing the gov­ern­ment would thrust Gor­ran into un­char­tered ter­ri­tory. They have to work with the KDP, and it al­ways eas­ier to be against the rul­ing par­ties than to work along­side them.

One op­tion that can­not be over­looked, given the num­ber of seats won by Gor­ran and the PUK, is that the two join forces to form a new cab­i­net at the ex­pense of the KDP.

How­ever, this would mean Gor­ran hav­ing to mend bridges de­spite their fierce rivalry, and the PUK in­evitably alien­at­ing the KDP-even though the KDP has reaf­firmed their sup­port and com­mit­ment to the PUK.

The ideal sce­nario, at least on pa­per, would be a broad po­lit­i­cal coali­tion of the ma­jor par­ties. How­ever, this would de­prive Kur­dis­tan of a de­ci­sive op­po­si­tion and would make the gov­ern­ment brit­tle and sus­cep­ti­ble to dif­fer­ences, bick­er­ing and a slow de­ci­sion-mak­ing process.

Given the new po­lit­i­cal re­al­ity, ri­val­ries and pas­sions may in­ten­sify, es­pe­cially in Su­laimaniya. Another fac­tor that should not be dis­counted is that the PUK may have lost its po­lit­i­cal power, but it still en­joys the al­le­giance of--and in­flu­ence with--most of the se­cu­rity forces in Su­laimaniya prov­ince.

All par­ties should re­mem­ber at this junc­ture that po­lit­i­cal com­pe­ti­tion and jock­ey­ing for power must not be to the detri­ment to the unity or sta­bil­ity of Kur­dis­tan, and must ul­ti­mately serve the peo­ple who voted the par­ties into power.

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