PUK loses its lustre

By Mufid Abdulla: Kurdistan Tribune – 16.9.2013 – During my recent visit to the south of Kurdistan, all I kept hearing from people inside the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) was about greed and patronage, and how the political culture inside that party has to change. The culture inside that party at the moment is gang culture.

Talabani’s absence from this election has reminded many people of his desire to see the PUK in control of every campaign. Instead, almost 22 years since the advent of civil administration in Kurdistan, the party is presiding over a breakdown in local governance and widening income disparities, while encouraging those surrounding the party solely for money and privileges.

Officially the Kurdistan unemployment rate is 6% but – according to people close to the audit office and as reported by the Opposition TV recently – the real total is considerably higher. More people receive ‘party privilege money’ than receive money from jobs. As the campaign intensifies for the 21st September election, the opposition are zeroing in on such perceived failures. Their goal is to take a chunk out of the commanding position that the PUK has won in the past three elections since the end of Saddam’s rule. In Suli city, where a PUK former mayor allegedly hanged himself, the Gorran movement won the last election, in 2009, and the results this time could be desperate for the PUK leadership.

According to reliable sources the PUK has spent up to 100 million dollars during this election. For example, sources close to KT have told us, on condition of anonymity, that the PUK leadership has donated half a million dollars to the family of the recently deceased poet Sherko Bekas.

The PUK is a party without a united leadership. The PUK deputy leader has told the local media that the party is free to choose any partner after the election.  Meanwhile, another high-profile PUK politburo member has said that the strategic relationship between the PUK and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) will be maintained.

Hobbled by divisions, the party has lost its past lustre and the support of many veterans who see that progress has not been made, especially in critical areas such as eliminating corruption. Many supporters openly acknowledge their disappointment. One PUK veteran told me: “Talabani and his peers fought for the freedom of their country, but joining the PUK today is seen as a path to power and wealth”. Today the PUK’s failures are creating for itself a new generation of opponents. “I don’t see a reason to show the PUK support”, says Sayran Aumar, a 24-year-old unemployed engineer in Suli city. Miss Aumar has joined an opposition party, the Gorran movement, partly, she says, because the PUK had fallen short of Talabani’s vision: “He was always there and cared for the people but these leaders don’t seem to care”. Like Sayran, many people believe the PUK is running out of time. PUK grassroots members need to assert themselves to discourage self-interested leaders. The party needs to learn how to serve the public and root out corruption. Nowadays the PUK doesn’t need people to resist torture but it needs people to be expert in modern management and economics. The PUK needs to hold a general congress to overcome its internal difficulties and preserve its independence. At the moment the party is nothing other than a KDP proxy.