By Butan Amedi: Kurdistan Tribune – On April 18th, 2013, the President of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Mr Masoud Barzani, announced that the presidential and parliamentary elections of the KRG will be held on September 21st, 2013.
These elections will be the second competitive ones held in the region since the liberation of Iraq in 2003. The question of whether Mr. Masoud Barzani can lawfully nominate himself for a third term is likely to become a tense and heated debate in the months to come.
In 2005, the KRG Parliament passed a regional presidency law. In the same year, as a result of a ‘backroom’ agreement between the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the parliament appointed Masoud Barzani as the first president of the Kurdistan Region in Iraq. The appointment was pursuant to the provisions of Article XVII of the KRG Presidency Legislation, which states that the president will be elected by a majority of parliamentary votes for the first term. In 2009, and pursuant to Article II of the same legislation, the KRG citizens voted in the presidential elections. President Barzani ran for a second term and won the majority of popular votes in Erbil and Duhok but lost Sulaimani to Dr. Kemal Mirawdeli. As a result of the overall elections, President Barzani was elected for his second term.
Article III of the presidency law of the KRG sets a term limit for the KRG presidency. A candidate can serve for only two terms. However, the reports that are coming out of Kurdistan show two diverging positions. The KDP is lobbying other parties on President Barzani’s right to run for a third term, insisting that Mr Barzani’s first term was a parliamentary appointment. On similar grounds, the PUK have quietly endorsed Mr Masoud Barzani as their candidate for the upcoming elections. But, on the other side of the debate, the opposition parties have made it clear that they oppose Mr Barzani’s candidacy for a third term.
On the general public front, the independent and most-watched NRT TV, which is based in Sulaimani, conducted a Facebook poll on Mr Barzani’s candidacy in the upcoming elections. Over 47,000 people have participated in the poll. So far, the results show that 49.1% of the participants oppose Mr Barzani’s candidacy for a third term, 32.6% are in favor it, and 18.3% remain undecided.
The KRG presidency is a powerful position, in which the ruling parties and the opposition have stakes. In addition, it is almost beyond belief for many KDP members and supporters, and even for some ordinary Kurds, that President Barzani is ineligible to run for a third term, or for the ‘Serok’ title to be awarded to an individual other than Mr Masoud Barzani.
Although it is difficult to predict developments in a tumultuous region similar to the Middle East, one of the following scenarios will likely unfold:
The draft KRG constitution is presently shelved because of disagreements between the KDP and opposition. The KDP insists on a presidential system, in which extensive powers are concentrated in the office of the KRG president. On the other hand, the opposition is insisting on a parliamentary system. In this scenario, the KDP agrees to amend the KRG draft constitution to meet the opposition demands, and put it to a referendum during the upcoming elections. In return, the opposition parties agree to extent President Barzani’s candidacy for a third and final term.
President Barzani will surrender his position to the law to pave the way for another candidate to run. The most reasonable alternative KDP candidate is the present 46-year-old Prime Minister of the KRG, Mr Nechirvan Barzani. The opposition parties and the PUK will welcome this scenario, but it will require President Barzani convincing his inner family because of the reported feuds amongst certain members of the family over power inheritance.
The PUK joins the opposition parties to oppose President Barzani’s candidacy for a third term. Although the PUK and opposition will form a parliamentary majority to prevent a legislative amendment, this will establish a political stalemate and further deepen the division between the Sulaimani and Erbil. The stalemate will continue until all parties resume negotiations to work out a political arrangement.
Scenario Red: The KDP and PUK, who together constitute a parliamentary majority, will unilaterally amend the law to allow Mr Masoud Barzani to run for a third term. The opposition will reject this scenario, which may result in public protests in Sulaimani, where the Goran movement is widely popular amongst the masses.
The negotiations among the ruling parties and opposition over the nomination of President Barzani will not go unnoticed in the neighboring capitals and Baghdad. Because of the geo-politics of Iraqi Kurdistan and the history of working relations between the ruling parties of the KRG and the neighboring states, Ankara and Tehran will perhaps play influential roles in the developments relating to the KRG presidential elections. Turkey has vested interests in Masoud Barzani remaining as KRG president. Tehran will likely push for its traditional divide-and-rule policy. The Iraqi Prime Minister, Mr Nuri al-Maliki, will likely oppose President Barzani’s candidacy because of the KRG conflict with Baghdad. If the KRG parties fail to resolve the matter internally, the neighboring interference will further complicate the issue.
While it’s difficult to predict development in this region, one thing is almost certain: If elections take place and President Barzani nominates himself for a third term, it must be agreed by the ruling parties and opposition. This matter has the potential to play an influential role in shaping the future of the Kurdistan Region in Iraq. While it could go either way, all parties must approach the matter wisely to put the region on a path to become a viable democracy.