In a move that surprised some, but not others, the Kurdish parliament recently decided to postpone presidential elections in the region, and gave President Massoud Barzani two more years in office. The official reason was that the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) draft constitution needed to be amended. Current Kurdish law states that the president can only serve two terms, and Barzani’s eight years are now up. The new constitution however, would allow him to run for office two more times. Barzani does not want to step down, and with the support of the other ruling party the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) he simply manipulated the system to stay in power.
Pres. Barzani has postponed voting for the executive until he finds a way he can run again (Today’s Zaman)
On June 30, the KRG legislature announced that the region’s presidential election would be postponed for two years. The ruling parties the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) already made the decision back on June 16, so this was simply the act to make it official. This led to protests by the opposition parties, the throwing of water bottles, and a fistfight between a member of the Change List and a PUK lawmaker. The police were called and took away a Change List parliamentarian. Another Change List politician said that the move violated the rules of parliament, and set the stage for a Barzani dictatorship. The presidential vote was originally scheduled for September 21, and coincided with balloting for the Kurdish parliament as well. The official reason for the delay according to a member of the KDP was that the region’s draft constitution needed to be amended. In mid-June, Barzani sent the document to the Kurdish parliament for changes after he claimed that only a referendum could decide its future. In May for instance, Barzani told a crowd of supporters that parliament didn’t have the power to change the constitution. The intention of the ruling parties is clear. They want to keep Barzani in office, and will do whatever it takes to accomplish this. Kurdistan likes to call itself “The Other Iraq,” but these actions show how politically it is no different from Baghdad. Barzani couldn’t find a way to legally run for a third term before the September elections, so he simply postponed them, so he can stay in office two more years. During that time the KDP and PUK will push through the constitution, which the opposition doesn’t have the seats to really change. That will allow Barzani the chance for two more times in office. The president is still widely popular, and maintains a huge network of tribal connections and patronage, which will ensure that he gets re-elected. All he needs to do now is wait until he has the means to do it.
The Barzani clan has been in a leadership role in Kurdistan for decades now. Massoud Barzani has no intention of giving up that position. He has already been in office for the eight years that Kurdish law allows, but that will not stop him. He’s postponed voting for the executive until a new constitution can be passed, or he finds another way to amend the law to allow him to stay in office until he’s ready to step down. At that time he can pass off the presidency to another member of his family. Clans and tribes play a large role in Iraqi politics, and that might be even more so in the KRG. That means there might be the facade of rule of law, but the powerful have found ways to ignore and manipulate it to their needs, and Barzani’s current machinations are a perfect example.
Agence France Presse, “Iraq Kurds delay presidential polls over row,” 6/30/13
Kurdistan Tribune, “Fights inside Kurd parliament over bid to extend Barzani’s presidency,” 6/30/13
Mahmoud, Nawzad, “Kurdistan’s Two Ruling Parties Give Conflicting Views on Regions Constitution,” Rudaw, 6/4/13
National Iraqi News Agency, “Fistfight between members of Talabani’s party and/change movement/in Kurdistan Parliament,” 6/30/13
Radio Nawa, “Deputy for change: to extend the mandate of Barzani as the proclamation of the dictatorship in Kurdistan,” 6/30/13
Rudaw, “Debate over Kurdistan Region Constitution Goes to Parliament,” 6/13/13
- “Kurdistan Region’s Ruling Parties Agree on Delaying Presidential Poll,” 6/16/13
Zebari, Abdel Hamid, “Barzani Seeks Compromise On Draft Constitution,” Al-Monitor, 6/19/13