A woman waves the flag of Kurdistan in Erbil. File photo: Safin Hamed / AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Almost 200 days have passed since the Kurdistan Region held its parliamentary election. Despite several so-called “breakthrough” deals between the three biggest parties, the Region appears no closer to forming a new government.
Months of fruitless meetings between the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), and the Change Movement (Gorran) have blighted the process as the rivals bicker over lucrative positions in government.
Disagreements over the presidency were once a serious obstacle, with rivals disputing whether the post should have executive or purely ceremonial power.
Relations between Gorran and the KDP soured in 2015 when Gorran tried to rein in the powers of then-president Masoud Barzani.
Gorran wanted the prime minister to wield executive power instead and for the president to be elected by lawmakers rather than the public.
Relations between the two parties have since warmed and the post of deputy president was promised to Gorran.
However, a new deal
promising a second deputy president to the PUK – Gorran’s main rival in Sulaimani province – has placed the KDP-Gorran détente in jeopardy.
If the deal between the KDP and Gorran cannot be reconciled with the deal between the KDP and PUK, a new government will remain elusive.
The Kurdistan Region parliament in Erbil. File photo: Farzin Hassan / Rudaw
Farid Asasard, a member of PUK leadership, told Rudaw if Gorran insists upon taking the deputy presidency, “both agreements have to be altered and the distribution of posts has to be re-discussed, which is not easy and time is against it.”
Kwestan Mohammed, a member of Gorran’s General Assembly, told Rudaw the party is ready to give the PUK the post of second deputy president, “but in return we shall be given Peshmerga Ministry or Interior Ministry [because] the second deputy will not leave any role for a deputy from Gorran.”
However, Jaafar Sheikh Mustafa, commander of PUK forces in the Ministry of Peshmerga, has said he will not follow orders from Gorran officials if they are given security posts.
The parties have therefore reached an impasse. Voters are outraged at the continued delay.
“I see the KDP as a man with two spouses. He does whatever he can to please both wives, just to avoid people’s talk and embarrassment,” one Facebook user commented on Rudaw’s recent coverage.
The KDP, which dominates the new parliament, does not want to harm its newly mended relations with Gorran. At the same time, it wants to please the PUK, which had boycotted the parliament, disrupting government business.
Others were critical of parties which had left the previous parliament rather ineffective.
"Over the past three years, the majority of blocs in the Kurdistan parliament were considering the post of the Kurdistan Region president an extra thing and rejecting the establishment. Now, they are engaged in an overheated fight over even its deputies," a Facebook user commented.
As the dominant military force in Sulaimani and Halabja provinces, the PUK’s demands cannot be ignored. Any government excluding the PUK would wield little authority in the Region’s east.
The PUK’s Asasard blamed the KDP for the dispute.
“The issue is that the KDP entered talks in a bad way, and it hastily made a deal with Gorran as a reaction against the PUK. Now, the KDP itself has to resolve the issue even if it costs them a post because the PUK has made its deal and is waiting for these two parties,” he said.
Aso Ali, another member of PUK leadership, said: “The delay of government formation has nothing to do with the PUK. We are awaiting the KDP and Gorran [to make a final agreement] so that we can sign our agreement with the KDP.”
Two weeks ago, KDP leader Masoud Barzani warned further delays to government formation would not be tolerated.
“Now we have reached a stage where we can’t wait and there is no justification for doing so. The time for waiting has ended,” Barzani told a ceremony inaugurating a book fair in Erbil on April 3.
This strong message from Barzani was immediately followed by an initial deal between his party and PUK but it did not produce concrete results.
KDP leader Masoud Barzani addresses the inauguration of a book fair in Erbil, April 3, 2019. File photo: Rudaw TV
Reaching a compromise, the KDP submitted a bill with Gorran in late March to amend
the controversial presidency law. According to the bill, the president will no longer be elected through a public vote but by lawmakers.
The bill has been through two readings, according to Hevidar Ahmed, a KDP lawmaker in the Kurdistan Region parliament, but the parties would rather not proceed without the PUK.
“KDP supporters, voters, and cadres keep asking furiously why the KDP is compromising,” Ahmed said in an op-ed
The best option for the KDP is to “meet most of the demands of the PUK and Gorran – which is more than their size [entitles them to] – to make them participate in the government,” Ahmed added.