Growing hope of elusive government formation in Kurdistan as the PUK internal crisis intensifies and endangers stability
As the Kurdish public grow increasingly frustrated and impatient at the lengthy delay and protracted negotiations around government formation, there were recent signs that the deadlock can be finally broken.
The onset of 3 strong parties was unprecedented in Kurdistan’s democratic experience. Although, this is an encouraging sign of political and democratic maturity, this new ground brought with it new challenges.
As with any political or social landscape, the situation will constantly change and as such politics will have to follow suit. Finding a compromise on government formation has been difficult but this has been made even more difficult as the region and political parties became accustomed to new norms.
This is particularly true of the PUK. Since the tragic illness to their leader and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, they have struggled to agree a common roadmap and way forward. It has been evident ever since the first notable split, when Gorran was formed in 2009, that there was increasing disagreement and disunity with the ranks about the future and strategy of the party.
However, as long as a constructive and reconciliatory tone is maintained, evolution and vigorous debate over the future of the party can be healthy. It is a sign of changing times and adapting to the new local and regional climate. After all, no party or political leader can expect that the policy and approach of yesterday can merely continue indefinitely.
PUK’s internal instability has accelerated in recent weeks with a growing media war. The decision to postpone the party elusive party convention caused rifts to deepen among its main council leaders Hero Ibrahim Ahmed, Kosrat Rasul and Barham Salih. Salih resigned soon after the postponement of the party convention and was particularly vociferous in the need for reform in the aftermath of the disappointing parliamentary elections.
Amidst the growing rifts in a major political party and an emboldened Gorran on the scene as the second largest party, the recipe for prolonged political wrangling and delays was there. How difficult would discussions on a wider level be if the PUK did not have united front at home?
After 20 or so rounds of talks around government formation, there was a glimmer of hope that concord was finally struck. Gorran would relinquish role of Deputy Prime Minister to the PUK, accept the position of parliament speaker and would symbolically attain the post of Interior Ministry.
The position of interior ministry would be a coup for Gorran especially as it means they can play a more pivotal role in government affairs and upholding their election manifesto, and can oversee security forces that they allege lean to the major parties.
The PUK internal struggle harms Kurdish stability in the region and Kurdistan Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani warned the security of the region and the stability of Sulaimaniya was a red line. The KDP can play a vital role in soothing cracks in its ally.
The situation is not helped that in spite of diluted seats, the PUK has sway over most of the security forces in Sulaimaniya province. No doubt that even some of these security forces have allegiances to Gorran and also sentiment towards certain party leaders within the PUK.
So what does all the internal party rifts and constant delays in forming a government mean for Kurdistan. For a start, if the Kurds are not united at home, how can they be united away?
The Iraqi national elections are fast approaching and with the continued illness of Jalal Talabani, it is not clear who the Kurds will even propose for post of President. Distribution of posts amongst the Kurds in Baghdad could well be another item of contention.
With continued clouds over Kirkuk and disputed territories, a new sectarian war between Sunnis and Shiites, and the continued stand-off over oil exports, Kurdish disunity will greatly harm their greater goals.
The need for a united approach in external affairs is evident in the different stance towards Syrian Kurdish autonomy. The PUK and Gorran have publicly supported the onset of autonomous cantons in Kurdish areas whereas the KDP have refused to recognise the new administration. In such a case, what is the official position of the KRG?