South Kurdistan : The leadership crises in Kurdish political parties

By Kamal Chomani: Kurdistan Tribune – 28.4.2013 – Almost all Kurdish political parties in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq are really in need of a change in their leadership: some because of their leaders’ health; but most because they have been leading their parties for ages, preventing other political figures from emerging.

The main leaders are still the ones we have seen dominating the political arena for the last four decades of Kurdish politics; yet they remain unchangeable for many reasons. The main leaders have not allowed other political figures to become powerful for fear of being replaced and so new political charismas have been marginalized. Meantime, power has been handed down to family members and others have remained on the periphery. The controversy over the re-nomination of President Masoud Barzani has sparked a lot of tense words amongst the political parties, members of parliament and the Kurdish media.

In a recent TV panel on NRTV, in which two members of parliament were commenting on Barzani’s re-nomination, I observed two contradictory and pitiful arguments: the KDP MP said that there’s no one in Kurdistan able to replace Barzani; in response, the Gorran MP said the market is full of people who can replace Barzani.

Alas, I really felt too sad when I heard another KDP MP on Press TV who said: “It’s not him that needs the post, but the Kurdistan Region that needs a leader like Massoud Barzani to make decisions.”

The KDP now underscores that they only nominate Masoud Barzani because he is the best person to lead the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). This is because they do not know who to replace Barzani with because of the inner circle conflicts between Masoud Barzani’s sons and his late brother’s son, Nechirvan Barzani. Of course, if the KDP nominates someone to the KR’s presidency, he should be from within the Barzani family inner circle. So for now, there’s two main figures: Masrour Barzani and Nechirvan Barzani. Making a decision about who should be nominated for such a position, doesn’t involve a democratic process like in democratic countries. The circle of the family decides and then the politburo just announces it. The politburo knows this though.

Masoud Barzani has been leading the KDP since his father’s death and he has been a kind of leader of the region – after defeating and removing the PUK from Hawler – since 1996. He has been officially in office since 2005. He has been the number one figure in the KDP for about four decades and in Kurdistan for almost two decades.

In the PUK’s case, the scenario is not much different: since its foundation in 1976, President Jalal Talabani has been the general secretary of the party. Even now that he has been hospitalized and so much aged, none of the PUK’s leaders dare to talk about post-Talabani. Unfortunately, even if they dare to think about it, it should always be in accordance with Talabani’s family’s agreement.

The opposition parties are not much better: the Islamic Group Leader, Ali Bapir has been the Emir of the party since its establishment after 2001. For the legislative elections of Iraq in 2010, the party nominated him for Iraq’s Assembly. Now he is an Iraqi MP and the party’s Emir. From all the members of the party, no one else was suitable to be nominated to Iraq’s Assembly. The Islamic Union is the only party that has changed its leader after he has led the party for 17 years. For the new opposition party, Gorran Movement, it is a bit different in that they have not had a congress yet. It is not clear whether the General Organizer of the party, Nawshirwan Mustafa will become a leader until death or whether he will implement what he has struggled for – an end to the ‘leader until death’ system.

Because of the phenomenon that political parties don’t allow new figures and the power transition is restricted to one from fathers to offspring, the Kurdistan Region is in a crisis over finding a political figure to replace Masoud Barzani. At the same time, the PUK is also in a crisis over recommending someone to replace Talabani in Baghdad and the party’s leadership.

Surprisingly, the opposition parties also have the same problem. Now they too are in a crisis over who is the best to be nominated to run in the presidential elections.