Just one day before locals in Iraqi Kurdistan went to the polls, Iraqi Kurdish politicians took their first firm steps toward forming the semi-autonomous state’s next government. The formation of a new government in Iraqi Kurdistan, which has its own military, borders and government independent of Baghdad, has been delayed because of disagreements over power sharing between the three major parties in the region.
After parliamentary elections were held in Iraqi Kurdistan late last year – to elect politicians to the region’s own parliament - the balance of power in the region changed. The Iraqi Kurdish general elections, held in late September 2013, saw the balance of power between the region’s three major parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Change movement, shift. Formerly the strongest parties in Iraqi Kurdistan were the KDP and the PUK; they shared power in the region and generally acted as close allies. But after the elections, the Change party – considered the major opposition there - became the second most popular political party in the region, bumping the PUK into third place.
After the elections, the Iraqi Kurdish parliament opened its first session on October 6 last year. But no government was able to be formed. However this may soon change. On Tuesday, April 29, the Iraqi Kurdish parliament held its longest ever open session and elected MPs to several important positions, including some of the disputed ones.
Local legislation states that the parliament must convene within a month of election results being announced and elect a cabinet within that first session. Because the parties couldn’t come to an agreement, it was decided to simply keep the session, which eventually lasted a massive 176 days, going until the impasse was resolved.
Over the last few months all four of the leading parties have said they felt the best solution was a broad-based power-sharing government with each of the four largest parties participating – that is the KDP, the PUK, the Change movement and the somewhat smaller Iraqi Kurdish Islamic parties.
But while they agreed on that idea, they could not agree which posts should be given to which party.
The KDP had the post of the region’s Prime Minister but it did not want to give up two of the most important ministries in Iraqi Kurdistan: the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Natural Resources. Additionally the KDP also had the post of Deputy Speaker of Parliament.
The Change movement had insisted on being given the Deputy Prime Minister’s seat as well as the Ministry of the Interior. But they have now been satisfied with the posts of Speaker of Parliament and the important Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs – the Peshmerga are a vital part of Iraqi Kurdistan’s own military. The Change movement has also been given other positions.
The region’s Islamic parties said they were also satisfied with the posts they had been given.
During the April 29 sitting of Parliament, which was broadcast live on several different satellite stations, the Change movement’s Yousef Mohammed was confirmed as Speaker, the KDP’s Jafar Ibrahim Eminki was elected Deputy Speaker and Islamic party candidate, Fakhradin Qadr, was made the Parliamentary secretary.
The only party currently left out of the agreement is the PUK. The PUK, whose leader, Jalal Talabani, has been in a hospital in Germany for over a year now after suffering a stroke, has lost a lot of support to the KDP and to the Change movement, a party that formed as a break away from the PUK on an anti-corruption platform.
And apparently the PUK is far from happy with the current power sharing agreement. Members of the PUK believe that the party’s history of struggle on behalf of the Kurdish people and its general status as an important political force over the decades should be taken into account. Additionally the party also still administers a large part of the Sulaymaniyah area so party members believe they have a right to be in charge of one of the two security-related ministries, the Ministry of the Interior or the Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs. During voting on the power sharing agreement, members of the PUK actually walked out of the session.
Critics of this new government, including those from the PUK who feel they’ve been sidelined in this process, say announcing these moves a day before general elections in Iraq and provincial elections in Iraqi Kurdistan, say it’s a deliberate move.
For example, the PUK, who felt confident they would see better overall results in the April 30 elections, wanted to continue to negotiate power sharing – but from a position of power after these new votes were counted.
Making the announcement, allowed parties the Change movement to use their new jobs as part of their election campaigning – it made them look stronger.
Despite this, local analysts say the new positions are very significant because this is the first time that the long-time opposition party, the Change movement, has actually made it into power. It is an indicator of political change in the region and it will also mean that all eyes will be on the Change movement. For a long time, this party was simply able to criticize those in power – now they will have to front up on the reforms they have always promised.
During a press conference held after the parliamentary sitting ended, Mohammed said that Iraqi Kurdish politicians had ushered in “a new phase of democracy” in the region. He also pledged to uphold the promises the Change movement had made the constituency and he said that parliamentary sessions would continue to be broadcast live to encourage more transparency.
According to local newspaper, Rudaw, Mohammed also said that if the PUK decided it would participate in this government that it too would get some important positions allocated to its senior members.
“The PUK has officially remained undecided about participating in the next government, as it insists on getting the Interior Ministry,” Rudaw reported.
It was also announced that Parliament’s next session will begin shortly, on May 4, so that further politicians can be appointed and the new Iraqi Kurdish government can begin work.