President of Kurdistan region Masoud Barzani. Rudaw photo.
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region - President Masoud Barzani called on the regional parliament in Erbil on Sunday to convene and come to an agreement regarding his presidency before Thursday,August 20, when the leader’s term in office will officially end.
In the absence of a regional constitution to regulate the term length, the question of whether Barzani should stay his term or leave has polarized parliament and Kurdish society.
Kurdish parliament is currently reviewing a draft of a regional constitution that will be put to referendum soon after it is ratified.
Supporters of Barzani say given the current conditions in Iraq and the ongoing war with the Islamic State, or ISIS, the president should continue his term until the region and country are able to hold elections.
Critics have dismissed the argument, claiming parliament could elect a new president despite the war with ISIS along Kurdish borders.
“To end this crisis, I ask all parties in the government and parliament and those [lawfully involved] to convene before August 20 and decide what is in the best interest of the country,” Barzani said in a short statement on Sunday.
Lawmakers of Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which is the largest faction in the parliament with 38 seats out of 111, walked out of a voting session last month in protest against parliament’s alleged reistence not to extend Barzani’s presidency.
Independent parliamentarians, who hold 11 seats, sided with the KDP and voted against parliament’s motion.
“I think the last thing we need now, with the ISIS militants at the gate and complicated wars spreading around us, is to reshuffle an experienced leader like Barzani,” said political analyst Saro Qadir during a live debate on Rudaw TV.
Qadir dismissed critics’ arguments that extending Barzani’s presidency would undermine the fragile democratic system in the country. He said other war-torn nations had done the same in the past “for the greater good.”
“We know that during the Second World War the Americans needed President [Franklin Roosevelt] to stay in office for four consecutive terms,” Qadir said, referring to when Roosevelt won his fourth term in 1944 just months before the end of the Allied victory over Nazi Germany.
Former lawmaker and political commentator Adnan Osman, on the other hand, disagreed with Qadir and said extending Barzani’s term could “jeopardize Kurdish democracy” and “pave the way towards totalitarianism.”
“Why not give the chance to a young leader who could just as effectively lead the nation against the potential threats?” said Osman during the debate, adding that parliament could elect a new president to serve until next general election.