THE BLOG

Kurdistan's Recent Election: Its Achievements and Challenges

The Kurdistan Region of Iraq held its fourth legislative elections on September 21, 2013. The electoral experience was a significant democratic achievement as it uncovered the fundamental issues influencing voter choice, measured party identification and legitimized KRG's authority and its domestic and foreign policy.

While the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) reasserted its position as the leading party in Kurdistan region with 38 seats, the Movement for Change (Gorran) officially positioned itself as the second largest party with 24 seats, placing the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) into the third with 18 seats. Further, the Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU) and Kurdistan Islamic Group (KIG) both managed to increase their presence in the parliament. Hence, the new reality illuminates a slight shift in the geopolitical map of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

In essence, the above scenario validates the notion that the fate of political parties is contingent upon the trust and content of the mainstream, as elections enable voters to hold leaders and parties accountable for their performance while in power and serves as an impetus for the evolution of democratic governance. Consequently, ignoring the voters' expectations will ultimately bring their demise. Therefore, political parties must deeply understand the volcanic issues that influence the voters' choice in order to take concrete steps to regain their trust and strengthen their conviction.

Although the current Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), a coalition government shaped mainly by the KDP and PUK, has made significant strides in democratic enhancements, economic and infrastructure development, education, and the energy sector, the election results sheds light on the discontent of a segment of the Kurdish society. Hence, it should be carefully studied and addressed.

The first parliamentary session for the newly elected parliamentarians was held on November 6, which marked a new phase that will shape the next KRG cabinet. It was followed by a visit to the city of Slemani on November 19 by the incumbent KRG Prime Minister, Nechirvan Barzani, who is also KDP's candidate for the upcoming premier role. He met with KDP's strategic alley, the PUK, and the opposition block (Gorran, KIU, and KIG) in a bid to form a broad-based cabinet.

Based on a Rudaw report, the atmosphere of the meetings was relatively positive as the involved parties have signaled their inclination to join the upcoming cabinet. Yet, it is unlikely that the entire opposition will take part in the future government.

Although a broadly inclusive administration could bring the Kurdish parties closer and help stabilize the Kurdish house, it may have negative consequences: First, a very broad-based government would certainly diminish the role of the opposition, which should work as a watchdog to monitor the government. Second, ministries' would likely fall under the influence of their respective parties' agenda, which could reduce the efficiency of the KRG and steer it away from its programs.

On another note, although the PUK came in the third place, its decline should not greatly influence its relations with the KDP as it is the second most influential player in terms of military, security, and finance. Therefore, its inclusion in the upcoming government is vital for the security and stability of the Kurdistan region. With that being said, PUK's significance was addressed by Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani while visiting Slemania.

As the KDP is the key party spearheading KRG's domestic and foreign policies, including the oil and gas initiatives, its electoral victory has legitimized and cemented its authority again. Thus, KRG's status quo -- its policy and disputes with the central government in Baghdad over the fate of the disputed areas, hydrocarbon rights, the question of the Kurdish security forces and its growing economical relations with Turkey is likely to be unchallenged.

Yet, Gorran's unconventional preconditions for participating in the forthcoming government and their growing relations with Iran and the deterioration of KDP's relations with the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) because of their autocratic actions in the Syrian Kurdistan are grave concerns that require resolutions based on common grounds.

Finally, KRG's stability and relative security is the fundamental ingredient that has made the economic development and democratic achievements possible. Hence, the September 29 terrorist attacks highlights the looming dangers of the Syrian civil war and the unrest in Iraq's Sunni and Shia regions: It could potentially endanger the Kurdistan region the same way violence has spilled over into Lebanon. Therefore, the KRG ought to form a cohesive and relatively inclusive government to truly address the core internal issues and build closer ties with the PYD to combat the Al-Qaeda.