Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) will be holding its parliamentary and presidential elections in September 2013. The vote is surrounded in controversy, as current Kurdish President Massoud Barzani wants to run for a third term even though the law says he can only hold the office two times. Barzani is pushing a referendum on a new constitution for Kurdistan, which would allow him to run for two more terms. The problem is the Iraqi Election Commission said that can’t happen until after September’s balloting. That means Barzani will likely use some other loophole to run again, then pass the draft constitution afterward, so that he can serve an additional two more terms for a total of twelve more years in office, solidifying his hold on power.
|KRG Pres. Barzani is attempting to find a loophole that would allow him to run for a third term (KDP)|
The biggest issue in Kurdistan’s next regional elections is whether President Barzani will be able to run for a third term. In April, it was announced that the next round of parliamentary and presidential balloting would occur on September 21, 2013. Barzani has been pushing on all fronts to ensure that he can run again. Current Kurdish law states that he can only serve two terms. His Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) pointed out a loophole that since he was appointed to office in 2005 without an election, he can serve another term. The KDP and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) also issued a statement claiming that the opposition was open to suggestions about the presidency. That was immediately contradicted by the Change List, Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU), and the Kurdistan Islamic Group (KIG) all coming out against extending Barzani’s term. Those three have talked about running their own candidate, but there appears to be no consensus. There have been reports that Change List leader Nishurwan Mustafa might run, but then the KIU and KIG want their own candidates as well. To top things off a PUK member from the Kurdish parliament said that a third term would be illegal. The problem is that the PUK is leaderless right now with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani in Germany for medical treatment, meaning that it too is weak at this moment. That’s probably why a lawmaker expressed a dissenting opinion. With the opposition weak, and his partner the PUK rudderless, there’s nothing really to stop Barzani finding some means to throw in his hat for another four years as Kurdistan’s president. It’s only a matter of how he will achieve it given the region’s laws. What he’s put pushing now is to hold a referendum on the KRG’s draft constitution, but that’s probably a longer term strategy to maintain his position within the region’s politics.
Kurdistan’s draft constitution has been as controversial as Barzani’s current run for office. The document was passed by the Kurdish parliament on June 24, 2009. The public was supposed to vote on it the next month when the KRG held its last parliamentary and presidential balloting, but the Election Commission said that it didn’t have the time and resources to carry that out. The new constitution allows the president to run for two terms, with the first being after it is passed. It also gives the chief executive more power such as being able to dissolve parliament, command over the peshmerga, the ability to pass and veto laws, and to remove ministers. Like Barzani’s third term, the opposition has come out against the new constitution. Immediately after it was passed, the Change List said that it was illegal, because parliament’s session had expired on June 4, yet they remained in office until the July elections. In response the president pointed out that no one had the two-thirds necessary in the Kurdish parliament to re-do the document, and that therefore it was a fait accompli. By the end of 2009, the KDP and PUK agreed to hold the referendum, and then make any changes afterward. That never happened until Barzani brought it up four years later to help him hold onto power. If the constitution passed it would obviously provide another means for Barzani to maintain the presidency for up to another eight years.
Now that the draft is back on the political agenda, it is receiving all the opposition that it did back in 2009. In October 2012, Change List leader Mustafa met with PUK head Talabani, and they agreed to amend the constitution. Mustafa wanted to limit the power of the presidency, and make Kurdistan a parliamentary system. (1) The KDP responded that it would not allow the document to be changed by the Kurdish parliament, and that it should simply be sent for a referendum. That was repeated in May 2013 by the head of the president’s office who told the press that since the constitution had gone through all the necessary steps there was no reason to send it to the parliament to be amended, and it didn’t have the legal right to change it anyway. Barzani’s plan has hit a major roadblock. Like in 2009, the Election Commission said that it would take months to prepare for a referendum on the constitution, and that means it can’t happen at the same time as the September 2013 presidential and parliamentary elections in the KRG. Barzani must have known this before he put forward the idea of putting the draft up for a vote. He must therefore have a larger plan in mind, which is to run this year, and win, then get the constitution passed later on to allow him to run two more times.
President Barzani is in a very advantageous position in Kurdish politics right now. He can use the loophole that he was not elected by the people in 2005 to run for a third time in September. With the PUK, Change List, KIU, and KIG all divided that means there will be no unified opposition to this maneuver. The PUK doesn’t even know whether it wants Barzani to still be president or not, and without Talabani they’re not likely to decide before the vote. Change and the Islamic parties are to small to stop Barzani, and if they want to run against him they may not be able to field a unified candidate, which would split their votes. That will mean that Barzani will walk away with the election. He can then push through the referendum on the constitution probably in 2014, which would then give him the opportunity to be president two more times. That would give him twelve more years to rule. By the time that’s over he’ll be in his late 80s, and will be ready to retire anyway. Barzani like Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, rules through family, tribes, patronage, and political connections. As long as these are still working for him he feels there’s no reason why he should not be president. All he needs to do is manipulate the system as he’s currently doing, and he believes that he can stay in power as long as he wants.
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