Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Meeting Between Change List And Patriotic Union Of Kurdistan Spurred By Increasing Power Of Kurdish President Barzani

The Change list is the largest opposition party in the Kurdistan Regional parliament. Nishurwan Mustafa, one of the co-founders of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), created Change in 2009 after becoming disillusioned with the path the PUK was following. In the last year, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and PUK have both courted Mustafa as the balance between the two ruling parties has shifted in favor of the former. In September 2012, President Jalal Talabani and Mustafa met in an attempt to forge a new relationship after the two had become bitter rivals. What brought them together was their growing apprehension about the power that Kurdish President Massoud Barzani of the KDP has been able to amass.
Change List head Mustafa (left) and PUK chief Pres. Talabani (right) during their meeting in Sep. 2012 (NINA)

On September 24, 2012, President Jalal Talabani, the head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and Nishurwan Mustafa the chief of the Change List held a summit. Afterward the two proclaimed a new relationship between their parties. They agreed to form a joint committee that would work out how they could cooperate in the future. This was the first time the two had met in six years. In the past, they were allies as they co-founded the PUK in 1975. Mustafa became Talabani’s deputy, but they eventually drifted apart, and in 2009, the Change List was formed as a result. The new friendly relations between the two were not widely appreciated. The spokesman for Change for example, resigned afterward. The Kurdistan Tribune reported that one faction of the list wanted a formal alliance with the PUK, while another wanted to remain independent. This was quite a change in Kurdish politics. The Change List had directly competed with the PUK in the 2009 regional parliamentary elections, with the Change List coming out on top in Talabani’s home province of Sulaymaniya. The two relentless attacked each other afterward. Now they were trying to reconcile.

Beforehand, both the KDP and PUK were courting Change. New Kurdish Premier Nechirvan Barzani of the KDP re-instated government officials who were sacked by the PUK for supporting Change after he took office in February. He and President Barzani also had conferences with Change List officials. Then on June 1, at the PUK’s 37th anniversary President Talabani gave a speech, which mentioned the Change List and Mustafa 29 times. Later that month, Talabani’s deputy, Barham Salah met with the Change List leader. At the time, Change claimed the visit was a personal one, not political. This was all due to the changing power relations between the two ruling parties. Until recently, the two parties were relatively equal. Now however, the KDP is in the ascendency, in part due to the PUK’s poor showing in the 2009 regional elections, and the emergency of the Change List. Many believe that the PUK will do even worse in the future, and was fragmenting as a result. It’s for this reason that the KDP and PUK were trying to win over Mustafa. Whoever did so could help their cause in future balloting.

The reason why Talabani seemed to win this contest was the PUK and Change’s growing apprehensions about President Barzani. This became public when Barzani was leading the charge for a no confidence vote against Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. During that process the PUK remained on the sideline, while the Change List refused to sign the no confidence letter. Then in July, Barzani created a new Security Council, and put his son Masrour Barzani at its head. The Change List claimed this was a step towards authoritarianism, and a sign that the Barzani clan was attempting to take control of the region. The PUK has been just as critical, complaining about President Barzani following a unilateral Syrian policy, and the Natural Resource Ministry promoting the KDP. This has led Patriotic Union members to increasingly call for revising the power sharing agreement with the KDP. As a sign of their growing confluence of opinion, both the PUK and Change List have recently called for amending the Kurdish draft constitution, and a parliamentary system of government to replace the current presidential one. Before, Change was opposed to both the ruling parties in Kurdistan. It accused the PUK and KDP of corruption, and the domination of the regional government for their own gain. Now that power has shifted in favor of the KDP, Mustafa and Talabani are afraid that Barzani will come to run the entire region on his own. As a result, they have opened to a new alliance between them.

Whether Change and the PUK can make this work is not known yet. The two have a lot of bad blood, and some are obviously unhappy with improving relations. On the other hand, their fear of President Barzani may be enough to bring them together. Whatever the case, it does show that politics in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) are not just about the ruling parties anymore. With its showing in the 2009 elections, Change has set itself apart from the rest of the opposition parties in the KRG parliament. What comes next is the big question. Will Mustafa and Talabani be able to work out their differences, and provide an opposition to Barzani or will the PUK simply co-opt Change?


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