Record breaking delay: Iraqi Kurdistan still doesn’t have a government

niqash | Hayman Hassan | Sulaymaniyah | 07.02.2014 – Elections were held in Iraqi Kurdistan in September last year but as yet the semi-autonomous region has not managed to form a government. Generally united by their shared ethnicity, this latest political tussle makes it look as though Iraqi Kurdish politicians are going the same way as their Arab neighbours in Baghdad, sacrificing local voters’ needs for political power plays.

It has been over 148 days since elections were held in the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan. But up until today, no new government has been formed in the northern region, which has its own military, parliament and legislation. And in doing so – or rather, in not doing so – the Iraqi Kurdish politicians have broken all previous records around the formation of their regional government.

Parliamentary rules state that the first session of Parliament here must be held one month after election results have officially been announced. This did happen – the elected representatives met for the first time on Nov. 6, 2013, but they didn’t achieve much – they were supposed to choose the Speaker of the House and two deputies. But nobody could agree on the candidates for this job so it didn’t happen.The main obstacle to the formation of new Iraqi Kurdish government is the change in power balance after the last elections between the region’s three major parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Change movement. Formerly the strongest parties here were the KDP and the PUK. Those two parties shared power in the region and generally acted as close allies. But after the late September elections, the Change movement – formerly the major opposition – became the second most popular political party in the region, bumping the PUK out of second place.   This has seen both the Change movement and the PUK demand the job of Deputy Prime Minister for one of their own. After three rounds of negotiations the issue still has not been resolved. And the government remains unformed.

The current Prime Minister of Iraqi Kurdistan, Nechirvan Barzani, the nephew of the leader of the KDP, Massoud Barzani, is in charge of forming a government – over the past three months the politician has been shuttling between the parties involved and trying to negotiate a solution. However he has not met with any success as yet. Both the Change movement and the PUK believe they have the right to fill the post of Deputy Prime Minister, albeit for fairly different reasons. The Change movement believes it has this right because it came second in the elections. However the PUK believes it has the right because of its long standing alliance with the overall winner of the elections, the KDP.

The results of the elections held Sept. 21, 2013, saw the KDP win 38 seats and the Change movement get 24. The PUK’s share of seats in the local 111-seat parliament fell to 18 while the two main Islamic parties, which have also been in opposition, won 16 together. The four remaining seats were split between the Kurdistan Islamic Movement, the local Social Democrats, the Communists and a party known as The Third Direction.

In an interview with NIQASH, Aram Sheikh Mohammed, director of the elections office for the Change movement, said that the long standing strategic agreement between the PUK and the KDP was what was causing the delay in the formation of a government. Mohammed blamed the PUK for the delay and said both the KDP and the PUK wanted to stick with their historic power-sharing agreement which basically saw Iraqi Kurdistan split into two zones of influence, with the PUK in charge of the area around Sulaymaniyah and the KDP in charge of the areas around Erbil.But positions should be distributed according to each party’s share of votes,” Mohammed  argued. “The people of Iraqi Kurdistan expressed their will through the ballot box and that should be respected.”

However Harem Kamal Agha, a senior politician in the PUK party, told NIQASH that it wasn’t fair to blame the PUK for the delay.

The PUK has an important status in Iraqi Kurdistan and a history of struggle for the Iraqi Kurdish people. These factors should be taken into consideration,” Agha said. “So I think we can blame the KDP for this delay. And,” Agha added, “the other reason for the delay is that when it comes to distribution of posts in government, every party involved is demanding more than their fair share.”

Naturally the KDP denies that it is to blame for the delay. “The PUK and the Change movement are to be blamed because they cannot agree on who will fill the post of Deputy Prime Minister,” says Mohammed Rauf, a senior member of the KDP. “They were all stressing that the most important things were their political programmes. But as soon as the discussion on positions began, they forgot everything else and started to compete for the best jobs.”

Some observers say that the Iraqi Kurdish government will be formed soon. However others are more pessimistic. The lack of an official government is also having a detrimental effect on the economy of the region. A draft budget for 2014 has not been prepared and banks are running out of cash supply; some say political instability is the cause.    The delay in forming a government means a delay in the budget, which means a delay in investments in major development projects,” posits local economist Sardar Najib. “It will also cause problems for companies and citizens who base their accounts on this expenditure. The region will lose millions of dollars because of this delay,” he concluded.