The political map in Kurdistan continues to be in flux. President Barzani’s refusal to step down after his term ended and his subsequent crackdown on the Gorran party led it to re-unite with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Gorran was originally a breakaway faction from the PUK calling for reform in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). At the same time the PUK continues to face internal divisions since Jalal Talabani is out of the picture due to his health problems. So far, there have been no real changes in Kurdistan yet, but things have transformed in Baghdad.
In May 2016 the PUK and Gorran created a new alliance. The two signed a 33 point agreement. That included demands for the KRG parliament to reconvene with no preconditions and to allow all parties to participate. The two also agreed to cooperate in the KRG parliament and provincial councils and to run together in the next elections. The two re-united due to President Barzani. On August 20 his term ended, but he remained in power. Gorran demanded political reforms in the KRG in return for acquiescing to his presidency. Barzani responded by stopping the speaker of parliament, who was from Gorran, from entering Irbil, and then dismissing the four Gorran ministers from the KRG cabinet. The regional parliament has not met since then. That gave the PUK and Gorran common cause as the latter was being shut out, and the former was afraid of being eclipsed by Barzani and his Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). To counter Barzani’s assertion of power, the two decided to work together to counter him.
The first test of the new relationship, swapping the governorship of Sulaymaniya, proved rocky. As part of the new alliance the PUK agreed to give up the governorship to Gorran. The PUK didn't do so at first, and several meetings had to take place before it finally happened. In the process 5 PUK council members resigned in protest, only to rejoin the party later on. At the end of August, the council finally agreed on the change. This was a huge symbolic move as the PUK had run the province since 1992. It wasn’t as smooth a transition as the two had hoped, but it did happen.
A month later however, the PUK faced an internal crisis. Two top party leaders Barham Salah and Kosrat Rasul created their own group called a “decision making body” in the press, and demanded more democratic processes within the PUK. Talabani’s wife, Hero Ibrahim and other party officials attacked their decision. Since Talabani fell ill several years ago there has been more factionalism within the PUK. Salah and Rasul have pushed for structural changes, while Hero and her allies want to maintain the status quo. This crisis came to overshadow the new alliance with Gorran, and nothing has really changed in the KRG partly as a result.
Where there was a decisive transformation was in Baghdad. Since 2003 the Kurdish parties have acted as a united front. In September that changed as Finance Minister Hoshyar Zebari from the KDP was voted out in a no confidence vote over corruption charges. Surprisingly many PUK and Gorran parliamentarians joined in his dismissal. At the start of the month, the PUK’s Alaa Talabani announced that the two would be working as a new coalition in parliament. The fact that their first act was against a fellow Kurd showed that they were serious about cooperating and taking on the KDP.
What the PUK and Gorran need to do now is push their agenda in the KRG. They will face an uphill battle as Barzani has shown no willingness to compromise with Gorran, and only put out feelers to the PUK. Gorran was originally created as a reformist party, but it failed at achieving any of its agenda working within the system. Now it has an opportunity to finally push through more democratic measures in Kurdistan with its new coalition with the PUK. The question is how much they can really accomplish without simply becoming part of the establishment, and how much they can do in Iraq’s parliament as well. For the PUK the party hopes to regain some of its lost status and relevance. It has to overcome its continued internal problems to fully realize this opportunity. These developments mean that Kurdish politics will certainly be interesting in the coming months.
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