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The Deadlock: KDP’s one-way policy

Intense meetings among the five major Kurdish political parties, plus the U.S. delegation, remain fruitless. Kurdish leaders have conducted more than 10 rounds of meetings in both Erbil and Sulaimani to reach a consensus on Barzani's status. The issue remains a puzzle.

The Kurdistan Democratic Party, KDP, which is also Barzani’s party, reaffirmed its position on Masoud Barzani’s status as the legitimate president of the Kurdistan Region, regardless of the fact that his term ended on August 20, 2015. Masrour Barzani, KDP’s new negotiation team leader and the son of Masoud, told reporters that “there is no doubt about the legitimacy of Barzani as the President of Kurdistan after the legal council confirmed the legality of the issue.”

The four Kurdish parties that oppose the KDP’s claim, Change Movement (Gorran), the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), and the two Islamic parties denied recognizing Barzani as the President of Kurdistan. However, none of the parties has introduced Speaker of Parliament, Yousif Mohammed, as a caretaker president.

There are different interpretations of the presidential law. Even the legal experts are not clear about it, but Barzani is still acting as President of the region and Commander in Chief of armed forces. Since the talks among political parties have intensified, Barzani has been away from the public eye, avoiding events and making no public statement on his term’s end.

While a robust debate on the political system continues, observers analyze the situation as a transitional one with potential to transform the region into a more stable and constitutional one, by reaching a consensus over Barzani’s future. The KPD support a general presidential election while the four other major parties are steadfast on having a parliamentary system that will allow lawmakers to hold the president accountable.

The KDP’s one-way policy doesn’t create room for bold compromises. Their position is that Barzani has to stay in power for two more years and no Parliament vote will be accepted. The other political parties are not going to accept the KDP’s demand for free. They have held on to their opinion over Barzani’s legitimacy to allow the negotiation team to reach an agreement.

Despite pressure from the United States, United Nations, and the United Kingdom, no agreement has been reached. There is some progress on minor topics related to the president’s ceremonial authorities, but not the core of the issue: will the president be accountable to parliament or not. The talks among parties helped to defuse the situation and decrease pressure in public. Apparently, neither the KDP nor any of the other four parties want to make compromises.

Currently, the KDP doesn’t only face the issue of a shifting political system, but the polarization that will not guarantee 50+1 votes for Barzani as he doesn’t have the strong alliance in parliament that he once did. It will be a political gamble to for the KDP to risk Barzani’s reputation, even if the law allows him a third term.

The four political parties, on the other side, are not going to risk their future by voting for Barzani. They will also not accept another extension like in June 2013.  It would be political suicide if they did it without gaining enough in return to satisfy their voters. The psychology of majority of the four parties’ supporters requires success over KDP, not defeat.

The KDP’s new strategy is to break the alliance of the four political parties.  But no one dares to repeat the PUK’s gamble from June 30, 2013. The drastic decline in PUK popularity ahead of the 2013 Kurdistan election was mainly due to the support for Barzani. Therefore, no one from the four parties is willing to have a deal with the KDP, even if they want to. If there is a deal, all of them will be in.

The KDP rivals’ debate makes more sense in terms of feasibility, and cost-effectiveness.  What the four parties suggested is that Parliament should elect the president. The argument is justified with the reality on the ground, due to a lack of financial support the High Electoral Commission will not be able to conduct an election, let alone a fair one. The financial crisis, the threat of the Islamic State, and the lack of public services don’t create a positive environment for an election.

The KDP knows that the presidential law and the amended presidential law of 2013 clearly state “Barzani’s term ends on August 19.” The KDP also realizes that calling for an early election is not feasible at the moment. It is rather a pressure point on its rivals who are part of a broad-based coalition government.

The KDP is the one that is asking for support. The compromises should start from the KDP, otherwise the talks will reach a dead end. The KDP doesn’t have a good hand to play. It doesn’t have a majority in Parliament. It might be able to ruin the quorum for one or two sessions, but a parliamentary session should start at some point.

Parliament, on the other hand, will resume its regular sessions in September. The draft of the presidential law is still on the table. The opening session of Parliament will be a new battlefield for KDP. If Parliament votes on the draft law in favor of the parliamentary system, it will be a legal constraint and a serious problem for the KDP. Hence, the smartest thing the KDP delegation can do is to give up some of its demands before it is imposed on them. The KDP can win Barzani’s presidency, but it should compromise on having an election. It will ease the situation for the government as well as the Parliament to focus on other serious topics such as Peshmerga, the financial crisis, oil policy, and reforms in public institutions.

Note: This was previously published by The NRT TV reserve the copyright. 

About Sarkawt Shamulddin (61 Articles)
Sarkawt Shamsulddin is a political analyst on Middle East Affairs and co-founder of the Kurdish Policy Foundation

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