Gorran at a dangerous impasse

By Mufid Abdulla: Kurdistan Tribune – 2.10.2012 – Last week’s visit by Gorran leader Nawshirwan Mustafa Amin to Jalal Talabani at one of his rest houses (following the PUK leader’s return from medical treatment abroad) has shocked many of Nawshirwan’s friends and baffled foreign observers.  What does this apparent reconciliation of two once bitter opponents mean for Gorran, the Kurdistan region’s biggest opposition party?

In the three years since the movement won 25 parliamentary seats, Gorran has never looked so shaky. It faces an existential crisis. People have lost their jobs and livelihoods through voting for Gorran. Thousands in the Kurdish diaspora have sweated hard to help develop it into a modern movement. Hundreds of companies, inside and outside Kurdistan, have donated thousands of dollars to it, hoping for something new.

We have inside information that the opportunists inside Gorran plan to take it back into the arms of Talabani and his followers. These people are nostalgic for the luxuries they enjoyed when they belonged to the PUK even though many of Gorran’s members (including Nawshirwan’s aide Rebin Hardi) have been assaulted by the PUK’s thugs.

There was rejoicing when Gorran won its 25 seats but the party has since failed to take advantage of this platform. Nawshirwan Mustafa, the president, has failed to grasp how this achievement came under threat; nor has he understood that the current crisis in Kurdistan is substantially due to Talabani’s years of mismanagement. At his press conference with Talabani last week, the Gorran leader avoided the subject of his past differences with the PUK.

Nawshirwan has failed to take his movement forward by insisting on the organisation of a democratic conference where the members can vote for a programme and leadership. He has failed to build a shadow government in opposition, largely because of widespread disillusionment with many of the opposition MPs in the Kurdistan parliament. And he has made few visits to rally Gorran’s members and supporters across the region.

Time and again the goal posts for a Gorran conference have been moved. First it was to be held in July 2011, then March 2012 and then November 2012. Now, according to the leadership, the conference will be held next year before the general election. But personally I doubt that they will hold a democratic conference. I also have little confidence that the current Gorran leadership can innovate and adopt the necessary new ideas on the party’s goals and vision.

Out of Gorran’s 25 MPs, four resigned last year, because they could not carry out the civic struggle, and one has resigned this year under a cloud. Gorran’s major failure has been in not realising that they cannot fully achieve their demands through parliament. They also needed to lead a civic struggle and bring their people onto the streets of the cities of Kurdistan.

The immediate conundrum is not easy to resolve. The Gorran movement appears to have surrendered to the old promises of Talabani. The least its leadership can do is to fully explain the reasons for this sudden rapprochement.Leading an effective campaign to restructure the government was the bigger and better challenge for Nawshirwan, rather than visiting Talabani, which is purely a personal matter. A small group within the movement has in effect bought into the corruption economy that it helped to found (as part of the PUK) back in 1992.

What Gorran needs to address is much more important than dining with Talabani. Radical reform to the government is needed, including in the areas of education, wages, income distribution, business regulation and land ownership . The South of Kurdistan’s economy has grown on average by 8% over the past five years. But even that pace of growth was insufficient to absorb the legions of unemployed, and now growth is faltering.

The necessary reform will be painful because it will inevitably diminish the two ruling parties, including Talabani’s PUK. The Gorran leadership should realise that Talabani cannot deliver any promises. The PUK lacks the organisation and leadership to deliver reforms – in fact its leaders are mired in corruption.

The reason Gorran’s leaders keep delaying holding a conference is because then the party’s grassroots can vote on whether the current leadership is up to the job. Nawshirwan Mustafa, together with the heads of the other two opposition parties, should be at the forefront of an inspiring opposition movement. But right now no one knows where Gorran is going. Under its current leadership, the movement is at a dangerous impasse.