A new politician dawn for Kurdistan, and its ramifications
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.