By Sarkawt Shamsulddin
Washington, DC- The KRG’s upcoming referendum is on the brink of collapse, and the Gorran may become savior, not a barrier. However, it depends on the Gorran’s leadership transformation. After the death of Nawshirwan Mustafa, Change Movement (Gorran) ‘s charismatic founder and decisive leader, the Movement’s leaders appear to remain in shock and paralyzed. However, Gorran’s popularity continues to grow, at least for now. Gorran’s reputation overshadows the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) as well. And that is the problem for Masoud Barzani, the leader of Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), who claims for a “successful” independence referendum. Although Barzani and his KDP media want to image referendum as a trophy won by Barzani, in reality, Barzani needs Gorran and PUK together to make it happen. It seems impossible!
Gorran Internal Disputes
The Gorran is still most popular political party in Kurdistan that can mobilize thousands of angry people in Kurdistan, but leadership crisis may lead to a drastic decline if not addressed immediately and appropriately. In order to the Gorran to make new deals, it needs to overcome its internal disputes. After almost two months from Mustafa’s death, the Gorran leaders fail to agree on a new leader and the path forward. There is destructive competition among the Party on who to succeed Nawshirwan Mustafa’s seat. There is a common understanding that one of Mustafa’s comrades who fought alongside him in the mountain and in Kurdistan can lead the Movement for now. The chance of choosing a young leader is little, but there will be a significant role of the young leaders to continue Mustafa’s legacy by keeping the young leaders in the decision-making body of the Gorran. According to Gorran’s by-law, electing a new leadership is not so complicated and can be done through Gorran’s National Congress. But it is unprecedented in Gorran’s history.
Two senior leaders might compete to replace Mustafa’s seat, Omar Sayed Ali and Qadir Haji Ali. Both are old friends and trustees of Nawshirwan Mustafa. The first one has been acting as Mustafa’s deputy and runs Gorran’s internal affairs. But his health condition and leadership style make him unfit for the current period as the Movement needs to make crucial decisions on how to lead its people to the future. Sayed Ali is known as an indecisive leader “who cannot convince the majority of the leaders and the supporters,” a senior leader told me. The second man, Qadir Haji Ali, is more welcomed by Gorran supporters and young leaders but he does not seem to have good relations with all members of National Congress who are the kingmakers. Haji Ali accused of having business ties and considered as a “rich” man who may encounter with Nawshirwan Mustafa’s legacy. His strength is his relations with intelligence and military community. He also has strong ties with the PUK’s senior leaders.
However, both candidates are keen on Gorran’s firm position against Barzani’s “unlawful” reign and strive to assemble a strong coalition against Barzani’s domination over Erbil. Thanks to Nawshirwan Mustafa legacy, the Change Movement still has leverage over the society and can mobilize the people, but the momentum may not remain the same if the Gorran fails to choose a new leader in the next two months because the PUK’s leadership crisis weakened Sulaymaniyah and allowed Barzani to act an absolute ruler. Also, without a new leader, the Gorran will not negotiate with the KDP any deal.
Why Barzani need Gorran for the referendum?
On July 18, Hemin Hawrami, a senior Barzani aide, said that the KDP gave up its veto on parliament’s reinstating and reached out to the Gorran. First of all, the KDP need the PUK endorsement. But the PUK can’t support referendum without the Gorran because the Gorran can turn PUK’s supporters in Sulaymaniyah and Halabja against PUK leaders. Second, the Gorran has two members out of Kurdistan Election Commission’s nine members, and the PUK also has two members. The Gorran has a strong bond with the Islamic Group which has one member in the Commission, and the Gorran has the power to fail the referendum’s through the Commission as the KDP can’t collect five votes to pass any decision regarding the referendum without the PUK or Gorran. The commission consists of nine members. The KDP and its allies have 4 votes only which is not enough to pass any bill.
Also, Barzani needs the Parliament to pass new regulations for the referendum and endorse the process as well. Currently, the Parliament is dysfunctioned by Barzani but to resume the sessions the Gorran has to agree. Previously, Barzani has said many times that he will not accept the leadership of Gorran’s Yusuf Muhammad in the Parliament. However, he changed his mind, and now he has no veto on Muhammad, but it has a problem; too late.
The failure of the upcoming referendum whether by losing the popular vote or losing legitimacy will be on Barzani and his KDP. The Gorran’s Nawshirwan Mustafa is no more and PUK’s Talabani not functioning at all. Barzani owns it, and he is going to be responsible for it. The KDP leaders realize the fact that they might be able to close the Parliament but they can’t undermine it forever. Also, they understand that having a deal with the Gorran is a risk, but they are too big to ignore.
The issue is now how to convince the Gorran while the party is passing through a very historic moment by choosing a new leader to replace the unreplaceable, Nawshirwan Mustafa? Future will test the new leaders and the Movement after Nawshirwan Mustafa.