Gorran looking like the winner in presidential-term extension crisis

By Harem Karem: Kurdistan Tribune – 5.7.2013 – Ever since the announcement of election dates in the Kurdistan Region several months ago, politicians have been kept on their toes, ready to anticipate any abrupt eventualities that might arise.

Indeed an atmosphere of political crisis currently prevails: The coalition government is in tatters; the president has completed his eight year term and is legally expected to stand-down but is likely to fight tooth-and-nail to cling on; and the opposition is making every effort to channel its energies towards winning upcoming elections and assuming power.

On Sunday 30th June, the Kurdish parliament made a sudden move – which was described by observers as a coup. Although MPs had been formally informed by the Speaker, Dr Arsalan Baiyz, that 20th June was the deadline for the submission of any bills, MPs from his Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and president Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) jointly submitted two bills on the 30th  requesting an extension of the presidential term by two years (to 19/08/2015) and of parliament by one month (to 1/11/2013).

This went against parliamentary rules and procedures. Despite fierce opposition and hours of delay, the bills were extraordinarily passed that same day. This has caused public outrage – including public expressions of discontent by PUK officials and supporters.A PUK official wrote in Awene Newspaper two days later: “The PUK was faced with three options: dissolution of 1998 DC agreement which the current coalition government is based on and going back to green and yellow zones (zones were separated during the civil war), the constitutional reform through referendum and the extension of presidential term. Hence PUK chose the extension of presidential term.”

However, the extension of the presidential term has to be signed by the president himself, prior to it being fully valid. And the president is unlikely to sign it for the following reasons.Former PUK leader and general coordinator of the opposition Gorran party, Nawshirwan Mustafa, has been playing a rather smart game. Those four PUK leaders – Hero Ibrahim Ahmed, Kosrat Rasul, Barham Salih and Mala Bakhtyar – who are behind the extension of the presidential term (and who, according to KNN TV, struck a deal with the KDP which included $500 million of oil revenues given to PUK to be written off, Hero’s son Qubad Talabani to be included in the KDP’s oil dealing, and Kosrat Rasul to remain as vice-president) have consulted with Nawshirwan Mustafa … but he allegedly encouraged them to go ahead with their move while publicly opposing it.

On the other hand, the president, who enjoys unlimited powers, was elected directly by voters four years ago: His term being extended by parliament ‘belittles’ him and limits his powers. Parliament can recall him for questioning in the future and this is too much to swallow for someone who sees himself as being above the law.

Overall the opposition enjoys ever-widening public support and Nawshirwan Mustafa’s enigmatic smiling “no thank you” as we walked to the elevator – when I asked him if he could comment on the PUK’s allegation about him privately encouraging the presidential extension deal – implies that he has been killing two birds with one stone. The PUK continues to shrink as it alienates its supporters and some officials – with senior PUK official Arez Abdulla being suspended for opposing the deal – while the KDP is seen as the unpopular party that paves the way for dictators and bypasses democratic principles. While the provincial elections are yet again being delayed, two questions remain unanswered: Will parliamentary elections be conducted on time in September and what will happen if Barzani declines the presidential extension agreed by parliament?