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Barzani’s throne create political turmoil in Kurdistan

The emergence of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, known as ISIS, and its fight against Kurds in Iraq, threatened Kurdistan’s fragile democracy. Due to the current crisis, the Kurdistan Regional Government, KRG, may not be able to conduct an election, let alone democratically elect a new president. There is a robust debate among political parties over Kurdistan’s presidential election that is scheduled to hold in July 2015.

Barzani's throne and political turmoil in Kurdistan

Masoud Barzani, the current president of Kurdistan region, is the first president of the region, following the recognition of the region by the Iraqi constitution  after June 2005. Barzani was elected by a majority vote in parliament for his first term, however, in his second term he was elected by a popular vote of the Kurdish people in 2009.

According to Kurdistan’s presidency law, Barzani is only allowed to stay in office for two terms. Barzani’s second term expired in June 2013. However, a political consensus between the two major parties, Kurdistan Democratic Party, KDP, and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, PUK, extended his presidency for two more years without an election.

The agreement between KDP and PUK based on several conditions such as preventing Barzani’s third term, amending the constitutional draft. Nonetheless, over the two years Kurdistan’s legal institutions, as well as, political parties failed to amend the draft constitution of Kurdistan for a public referendum. There may be reasons behind this, but failure to do so puts Kurdistan in a political turmoil and its fragile democracy in jeopardy.

The political parties have several options on the table for addressing the political crisis:

– Putting Kurdistan’s draft constitution for the referendum by parliament, and if approved, it will allow Barzani and others to nominate themselves as the presidential candidates.

– Amending Kurdistan Regional Presidency’s law and allow the third term election to Barzani either through a direct election or a majority vote in parliament.

– Extending Barzani’s presidency in parliament and conduct an election in 2017. Announcing state of emergency by Barzani and that will allow him to stay in office longer.

These scenarios would allow Masoud Barzani, the current president, to remain in office for a longer period.

The other option is imagining to have new president if Barzani allows someone else to replace him in accordance with democratic procedures.

In this case, the Parliament can amend the presidency law to elect other candidates to become president through a majority vote in the parliament. This option is still subject to debate among major political parties. The KDP, Barzani’s party, has the largest parliamentary fraction, 38 seats, but it is not a majority. Therefore, KDP’s role is important to allow the democratic transition to proceed.

In the face of ISIS, the current security and political challenges on national, regional and international level, reinforce KDP’s argument that the need for Barzani’s political skills, experience and charisma in favor of extending his presidency or re-electing him. On the other hand, most of the major political  parties and independent media believe for the sake of democracy and the future of Kurdistan Barzani should voluntarily leave the office after his term expired in August 2015.

Kurdistan is on the world radar and well commended by the international community, due to the ground forces, it prosecutes against the Islamic State. Its governance, approach, and democracy are also more than ever is under the international community’s oversight and scrutinize how Kurdistan, which has been seen as the only hope for democracy in Iraq, conducts itself. Thus, Barzani is well positioned to break an old and unworkable system of governance, not just in Kurdistan Region but across the region by allowing others to step in. He can win the respect of world leaders and decision makers, which will turn into tremendous support for Kurdistan Region.

The debate about Barzani’s presidential term is still running in the media and among the people. It is not clear whether Kurdistan will choose democracy despite the threats or stick to a regional political norm by justifying crisis as an obstacle to making a change in leadership. Meanwhile, Barzani’s decision has a decisive role to determine the political system of Kurdistan Region in the years to come. It will also have an impact on the social stability in the long run as well.

* The analysis  by Sarkawt Shamsulddin,


1 Comment on Barzani’s throne create political turmoil in Kurdistan

  1. Benjamin Kissin // May 30, 2015 at 2:15 am // Reply

    I agree with Mr. Shamsulddin’s analysis. In my mind, the “state of emergency” option is perhaps the most likely course of action for the government. The other two options, including amending the constitution, set a dangerous precedent for Kurdish democracy. (The “state of emergency” option is also dangerous, but can at least maintain legitimacy with the continuing threat of ISIS on the borders of Kurdistan.

    The best option, as Mr. Shamsulddin noted, is for Barzani to step down when his term expires in August. Barzani has made great strides for the Kurdish movement and the KRG while in office, but to remain in office too long erodes his personal legitimacy as well as the legitimacy of the democratic system in Kurdistan. In order to avoid the “president for life” situation that hits many democracies, there will need to be a discussion of a post-Barzani presidency. Whether Barzani’s possible replacement will be able to rally the Kurdish people and unite different regional and political factions is another problem altogether.

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