Hospital bed photos of Talabani won’t heal PUK divisions


By Mufid Abdulla: Kurdistan Tribune – 19.5.2013 – Six months after Jalal Talabani’s collapse in Baghdad with a stroke, the PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) TV channel has shown photos of him in a German hospital bed (without any independent verification).

There are rumours that he might be making a speech on TV but I don’t think that’s likely at this stage. The pro-KDP (Kurdistan Democratic Party) Rudaw website is saying that the pictures are old and that the KDP wants to deceive people. Observing the PUK organisation in Suli and Erbil cities, you feel as if the party itself is fading away, ever since its leader Talabani’s latest illness.  The banks and financial markets in Suli and all PUK-controlled areas have been affected by this uncertainty. Many people will think that these photos – of a very frail and sick man – should have been kept private for his family and friends. However, they have been published to try and reassure PUK members that their leader is still alive and that somehow he will be back.

Riven by divisions, the PUK needs strong leadership to deal with the huge challenges it faces – both from the KDP and from Baghdad – but there is no sign of this. Instead there is disunity within a leadership that is increasingly alienated from the grassroots. Several wings inside the party are speaking with different sharp tongues.

Former military leader Kosrat Rassul is unsure of what direction the PUK should take – whether to settle with Gorran, and renew talks with his former leader Nawshirwan Mustafa, or to surrender to KDP demands and make the PUK another branch of the KDP. Barham Salih, former prime minister and deputy PUK leader, is best suited to take charge of the party, but the others resent him for his qualifications and efficiency and they would be jealous to see someone like him leading the PUK. The past six months have revealed Hero Talabani’s position inside the PUK to be shaky and there is no prospect that she can mobilise the masses and become the Sonia Gandhi of Kurdistan, although she has more in common with Nawshirwan Mustafa than with the PUK’s current leadership.

Within the ranks rumours are circulating that the KDP is spending substantial sums of money to buy the support of PUK leaders and grassroots members.

Within the PUK Central Council, set up by Talabani two years ago, people are saying that Mula Bakhtiyar is acting like a voice for the KDP, with his defence of maintaining the Strategic Agreement between the two ruling parties. PUK members say that Bakhtiyar  is motivated by resentment towards his own party (because he was arrested by the PUK in the 1980s), while KDP members say that he is the only PUK  leader they will listen too.

Mula Bakhtiyar is a poseur who loves media attention, claiming that his politics are all about democracy and transparency, although there is little evidence of this. The opposition has not taken him seriously as an important figure.

The decline of the PUK cannot be reversed unless a genius architect redraws the organisation. Over the years, thousands of young members sacrificed their lives for this party but now it is a partitioned body, unable to speak with one voice.

The PUK needs to consolidate its forces and overcome a paralysis caused by the impossibility of reconciling its pro-Gorran and pro-KDP wings.  The organisation needs a plenum – to debate freely and make decisions clearly – to have a chance of functioning again as one political voice. This should happen immediately, before it is too late. The PUK’s only salvation lies with its members and not with its alliance with the KDP.