PUK Differences Explode into Public View – (THE LAST DAYS OF PUK)

4.2.2014 – RUDA – SULAIMANI, Kurdistan Region – Internal differences inside the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) have reached a point where it seems almost impossible to hide them from the public any longer.A joint statement last week by Barham Salih and Kosrat Rasul Ali, the two deputy chiefs of the PUK, raised the internal differences another notch. From its foundation in 1976, the PUK has kept a number of different factions under its wings, and the leaders of these groups have in the past four decades seen ups and downs. At times, they have split from the party altogether.

But the current scenario is different, and the differences are larger.

The main reason is the absence of PUK founder Jalal Talabani, who has been in hospital in Germany since a stroke more than a year ago.  Along with his hospitalization, his party’s health  also has been deteriorating.

Salih and Ali are two major pillars inside the PUK. They come second after Talabani himself. However, the recent internal disputes show that they have positions, but not power. Both leaders seem to follow the health of their chief in hospital only through the media, just like everyone else.

In a recent interview Salih said he has chosen silence on many issues, only out of moral responsibility and respect for Talabani. Otherwise, he seems to have much more to say and criticize.  When Salih was the prime minister of the Kurdish government in Erbil, it was often said that Talabani’s wife, Hero Ibrahim Ahmed, stood in his way and hampered any ideas or projects he had for Sulaimani.

But bit by bit, Salih appears to be giving up on silence. After the PUK’s deplorable record in the September elections, he was the first to speak out against his party’s policies and the need for reform.

Now, Talabani’s absence may well be a political opportunity for Salih: He may eventually break his silence and save his own future. In the lead-up to last fall’s parliamentary elections, the PUK must have felt it was standing on the edge of a precipice. That is why it asked Salih to lead and be the face of the election campaign. He agreed, but on condition that he would have full authority to name candidates and present an agenda.

 His condition was not accepted and one of his own colleagues, Mala Bakhtyar, took up the post. In turn, Salih vowed to stay away from the campaign and not interfere in who gets nominated and who does not.

The elections went ahead on time, but the PUK walked out with a staggeringly poorer outcome than what the leaders had claimed. The election results hurled the PUK into the rank of Kurdistan’s third party, after the Change Movement (Gorran) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).

Salih and Ali were more willing to accept defeat. But their suggestion was frowned upon by their own colleagues, and brushed aside with much anger. The party could not bear the thought of losing Sulaimani, the PUK power base for two decades.

Three days after the polls, as people eagerly awaited the final results from the Election Commission, Gorran media reported that a group of armed men had broken into the vote-counting center in Sulaimani to try and tamper with the ballots. That same night, it was said, Salih had called Ali and threatened to resign in protest to such an act.

The next day, Salih wrote: “Defeat is unpleasant, but evading people’s will is shameful. Any one group or person who may want to tamper with the people’s decision would be acting against the policies of the PUK political bureau and its supporters.”

In the end, the PUK officially accepted the outcome of the polls and the leaders convened to plan a party convention. Salih and Ali preferred to keep their views and ideas to themselves until the convention, which was planned for January 31.

 For Both Salih and Ali the convention could have been a milestone, a new station on the road to changes, reform and reshuffling of posts. But before long they both complained that other leaders within the party were opposed to any such ideas.

The deadline eventually passed without a convention. There were only further signs of disagreements. Meanwhile, before the set deadline, both deputy chiefs threatened to quit their posts unless the convention was held on time.

Observing the PUK situation closely, the KDP and Iran felt obliged to get involved. The three parties met in Tehran, where an agreement was reached between Talabani’s wife, Salih and Ali to end the tensions. The agreement was to resolve two issues: The convention and the party leadership after Talabani.

The ink of the Tehran agreement had not yet dried when Ahmed called for the postponement of the convention, arguing that that was the demand of all PUK bureaus and branches. Her call was discussed at a meeting a day before the planned convention, and both deputy chiefs agreed to it, but in return for a program of changes.

These were: Establishment of a new decision-making body; reshuffle of security posts, including the anti-terror squad, security force (Asayish) and intelligence apparatus; changes within the party election commission; a party delegation would visit Talabani in hospital; and finally, deciding on PUK’s share of government posts in the next cabinet by consultation. This new and hopeful agreement was short-lived, too. Twenty-four hours later, both deputy chiefs announced they would not commit to the agreement, and as a result they boycotted the final party meeting that was to seal the decision to delay the convention. Instead, they renewed their call for a convention.

This demand by Salih and Ali takes things back to square one. However, this time, they no longer consider themselves deputy chiefs, only two ordinary party members.

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