Elections will held in Iraqi Kurdistan in September. And despite the fact that local laws say he can’t, the current president may run for the job again. Local MPS are hatching several cunning plans to get around the law.
On April 18, the President of Iraqi Kurdistan Massoud Barzani, announced that parliamentary and presidential elections would be held in the semi autonomous region in September this year. And many others said that Barzani would also be running for President again, come September 21.
But there’s a problem there. According to current laws in the semi-autonomous region, the President of the region may only remain in power for two terms. A term is four years. And Barzani will complete his two terms in the middle of this year.
Yet many senior politicians in Iraqi Kurdistan – including the Barzani’s party, the Kurdistan Democratic Party’s spokesperson, Jafar Ibrahim Eminki - have said that they are trying to get around the law in order to allow Barzani to be nominated for a third term as President. Senior politicians from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan have also said that they don’t have anyone to replace Barzani.
Generally power is shared between two major parties in Iraqi Kurdistan - the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) – and in practice the region is basically split into two separate zones of influence, with local administrations in Erbil and Dohuk controlled by the KDP and the Sulaymaniyah area mostly administered by the PUK.
There are also opposition parties in the region, including the relatively influential Change Movement, also known as Goran, which is formed of many dissatisfied with the two major parties.
And opposition parties in Iraqi Kurdistan responded with strong criticism to the idea that Barzani might be nominated for President again. In a joint press conference, the Change Movement and the region’s two major Islamic parties, said that trying to change the law to allow Barzani to remain in power was a step toward dictatorship in Iraqi Kurdistan and was a blatant disregard of the law.
“We don’t have any problems with Barzani as a person,” Aram Sheikh Muhammad, director of the elections office for the Change Movement, told NIQASH. “The problem is that the law doesn’t allow him to run for another term.”
The critics of the plan for Barzani to run again suspect that the KDP and PUK have various ideas to circumvent the current law. One sees legal experts interpreting the law in such a way that Barzani is able to run for election again.
Ali Awni, a senior member of the KDP, gave a clue as to how that plan might work. He told NIQASH that in 2005, when Barzani first became President of the region, there were no actual elections held. Barzani was never elected and he was appointed President by the local parliament, via political agreement between the leading political parties in the region.
“The President was elected by the people for the first time in 2009,” Awni explained to NIQASH. “So if he runs again it will only be for election for the second time.”
Awni added that as yet, Barzani himself hadn’t suggested that he run for President again. He said it was an issue that the opposition parties were talking about publicly in order to pre-empt any such thing happening. This was a violation of Barzani’s own rights and “it didn’t serve the public interests,” Awni noted.
The second way of allowing Barzani to run again would involve MPS belonging to the KDP and PUK going back to parliament to amend the law – the KDP and PUK have 59 out of 111 seats in the Iraqi Kurdish parliament.
However the latter could run into problems as it appears that not all the members of PUK like the idea of Barzani running again. “If Barzani wants to nominate himself again, then it must be under an amended law,” Arez Abdullah, a leading member of the PUK, said. “But if the law isn’t amended then Barzani cannot be nominated to run. But up until now nobody in the PUK has even discussed this with the KDP. If they approached us on this issue, then we’d make a public announcement of you r position.”
Meanwhile Bakhtyar Saeed, a local lawyer and political observer, says that if Barzani is eventually nominated to run for a third term, the conflicts that already exist between the two ruling parties and the opposition movement in Iraqi Kurdistan will only deepen.
“Barzani has finished two terms and he cannot re-nominate himself,” Saeed confirmed. “But the KDP is not ready to give away this position at any price. They believe that if the opposition succeeds in preventing Barzani’s nomination, then they will lose a lot of power in a very short time. That’s something they will never accept.”