Failure to form new cabinet threatens Kurdish interests at home and broad
The results of the Kurdistan legislative elections of 2013 changed the political dynamic of the region. The PUK-KDP dominance of the political arena was broken by the rise of Gorran as the second largest party with 24 seats. This placed the PUK in a predicament with their influence diminished to 18 seats.
For decades, the political cake has been split roughly down the middle between the KDP and PUK as part of their strategic agreement. Now, faced with a new reality, the PUK has found it difficult to relinquish its partner status in government; handing over its historic control of Sulaimaniya province to its arch rival, Gorran, has proved particularly galling for the party.
Of course, this has placed the KDP in a difficult situation, too. The KDP cannot maintain its strategic relations and carry the PUK while at the same time appeasing Gorran and the other opposition groups that have risen to prominence.
The PUK still has considerable influence over the security forces, even if their political power has been diluted. It is not ready to play second fiddle and relinquish several key ministries.
However, any political agreement that fails to give the electoral weighting of each party and the election outcome top billing on the agenda will pose a definite setback to the political will of the people.
The PUK decline at the polls has coincided with the illness of their leader, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. In many ways, the PUK has struggled to adapt to the new political realities and to evolve its strategy. Internal friction is one of the reasons the PUK has found it difficult to agree on a common position on cabinet formation.
It has been trying to convene the party’s forth congress since the elections, but the event was recently postponed. Prior to holding its 4th General Assembly, it announced that Talabani will be replaced by a threemember council consisting of PUK Deputy Secretary General Kosrat Rasul, Second Deputy Secretary General Barham Salih and Talabani’s wife, Hêro Ibrahim Ahmed. Although this will help alleviate the leadership debate that has intensified since the last elections, it will not provide the long-term remedy that is required.
The distribution of ministry posts was never going to be easy with the crucial role of Deputy Prime Minister contested by both Gorran and the PUK. The creation of three deputy positions, one for each main party, may seem like a solution, but it brings other drawbacks with it. Gorran, whose stock as the PUK’s rival has risen since 2009, is not about to accept a stronger PUK presence on the cabinet, given that it won more votes.
Even in opposition mode in a future government, Gorran would have a sig- nificant influence on political proceedings that could hamper the passing of laws; this is not something the KDP can ignore.
A government of national unity may be in the best interests of the Kurdistan Region, but it has led to months of inter-party wrangling and mutual accusations over the failure to reach an agreement. Indeed, the stakes are so high on a regional level that Iran has tried to exert pressure to ensure the PUK retains its relative standing.
Kurdistan now finds itself at a crucial juncture amidst a reviving war between Baghdad and Sunni militants that threatens the security of the Kurdistan Region, the fast approaching Iraqi general elections, and heated debates between Erbil and Baghdad over the national budget and exporting oil via Turkey.
Solidarity, compromise and agreement are important if the interests of Kurdistan and its people are to be served independently of any partisan interests.
Such delays affect the confidence of the people who set out in their millions to cast their votes. At the same time, it leaves parliament in limbo.
Kurdistan must strive for unity in the upcoming Iraqi national elections, especially in Kirkuk province; it must maintain its leverage in its many disputes with Baghdad.