General elections in Kurdistan July 25

If everything goes as planned, Kurdistan voters are set to head for polling stations on Thursday, July 25, to elect 111 Parliament members and the president of the Region.

This is indeed not the first time Kurds vote, yet many believe that this year’s elections are somewhat different than previous ones. For the first time, voters can directly vote for a presidential candidate. Last time, in 2005, Parliament–with a majority vote–elected the president of the region. This year, at the request of current President Massoud Barzani, the decision-making has switched from Parliament to the people, who will elect the next term’s president along with the parliamentary elections. Along with Massoud Barzani, four other candidates–three of whom are totally independent–are participating in the race.

Currently, a debate has been sparked about the appropriateness of the presidential election through popular vote. Some political organizations argue that so far the president’s powers have been restricted due to the reason he was elected by Parliament, and that Parliament could veto most of his decisions. They say that the political system in Kurdistan is parliamentarian where the presidency is more or less a formal position, but when people directly vote then such a president receives a bigger mandate from the people and consequently will not consult with Parliament as expected. Meanwhile, those who defend the popular vote argue that Kurdistan needs a strong and legitimate president who could undisputedly defend Kurdish rights in Baghdad and elsewhere. They also maintain that, even if the president is elected directly by the people, he will need to closely cooperate with Parliament and, according to the Constitution, he will still be accountable to Parliament.

This indeed is a good and healthy debate. Needless to say, the political hemisphere in Kurdistan has undergone a major makeover. Only a decade ago, Kurdistan was struggling with the aftermath of the Civil War when tolerance for political difference was low and no one talked so much about elections. There are other signs of major changes in the political arena in Kurdistan. Never before have political parties been as united as they are today, despite the fact that more than 28 political alliances are set to take part in the elections this year. The two key political actors, Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani, maintain the firm unity between their heavily popular parties, the KDP and PUK, despite the fact that Talabani’s PUK was split in the runup to the elections this year. Still, the PUK is regarded as a major Kurdish political force in Kurdistan Region.

Kurds have many issues to deal with after the July elections–most importantly, Iraq’s general elections in December this year when both the Baghdad government and Iraq’s national assembly will be reshaped. Will Kurds again have an alliance with PM Maliki considering the many setbacks his cabinet cost the Kurds in oil and gas issues and the disputed areas despite the fact he came to power through direct Kurdish assistance? What will Shiite-Kurdish cooperation look like after the elections in December while the powerful Al- Hakim, who has long been a true Kurdish ally and friend, is hospitalized in Tehran with a serious illness? Can other Shiite leaders be trusted? And of course Kurdistan must, in the four years that are ahead, make its utmost effort to deal with both the disputed areas and the Kurdish share of the national budget in Baghdad.

Kurdistan has developed steady relations with both Turkey and Iran. Now is the time to widen its economic cooperation with these two countries as well as look for other partners beyond their borders.


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