If current Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani succeeds in his third, and some say illegal, nomination for President, then opposition parties say they will try to find an alternative candidate for their supporters
The Change Movement spokesperson, Mohammed Tawfiq Rahim.
Ever since the founding of Iraqi Kurdistan’s major opposition party, the Change Movement or Goran, politics in the semi-autonomous region have been far more contentious. The two parties that had once fought one another but which had agreed to basically split power in Iraqi Kurdistan now had a real challenger And if not necessarily, in actual votes – the Change Movement still trail in how many seats they have in the regional parliament – then certainly, in terms of political contest and argument.
Generally power is shared between two major parties in Iraqi Kurdistan - the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) – and in practice the region is basically split into two separate zones of influence, with local administrations in Erbil and Dohuk controlled by the KDP and the Sulaymaniyah area mostly administered by the PUK. These days though the Change Movement is seen as a serious contender for a third of the region’s power – they have 23 seats in the Iraqi Kurdish parliament while the KDP has 30 and the PUK, 29.
The most recent challenge that the Change Movement have thrown down is over the re-election of Iraqi Kurdistan’s current president Massoud Barzani. According to current laws in the semi-autonomous region, the president of the region may only remain in power for two terms. A term is four years. And Barzani will complete his two terms in the middle of this year. Yet many senior politicians in Iraqi Kurdistan – including the Barzani’s party, the Kurdistan Democratic Party’s spokesperson, Jafar Ibrahim Eminki - have said that they are trying to get around the law in order to allow Barzani to be nominated for a third term as President.
Part of this may involve having the current draft of the Iraqi Constitution put to public referendum in the hopes that therein lies a way for Barzani to stay in power. The Iraqi Kurdish Constitution, drafted several years ago, was contentious before but now the arguments over it are increasingly serious.
In an interview with NIQASH, the Change Movement\'s spokesperson, Mohammed Tawfiq Rahim, talks about why they’re so opposed to the current draft of Iraq’s Constitution and what his party will do, if Barzani and his allies succeed in their bid to see him nominated again: they may, Tawfiq Rahim says, even come up with their own candidate, a seriously controversial move in Iraqi Kurdish politics.
NIQASH: Why is the Change Movement so opposed to this draft of the Iraqi Kurdish Constitution?
Mohammed Tawfiq Rahim: The region\'s draft constitution – and the KDP is particularly enthusiastic about it – is full of holes and it doesn’t satisfy the demands of all of the different political actors in Iraqi Kurdistan. It gives the region’s president more powers and marginalizes the parliament. This also makes it inconsistent with Iraq’s own national Constitution, which has a parliamentary system rather than a presidential one.
So we want the Constitution reviewed before any public referendum is held. And we believe that that review should result in amendments that limit the region’s president’s powers – he should be elected by the parliament and not directly by the people so that he is responsible to parliament directly.
NIQASH: Why don’t you think it’s logical to just hold a referendum on the Constitution and let the people decide?
Tawfiq Rahim: We are confident that if a referendum is held on the Constitution, the Iraqi Kurdish people will not accept it. When the first draft of the Constitution was passed, there was no real political opposition. Now there is. And it is important that all parties approve of the draft so that everyone feels a sense of ownership of the Constitution. It must then also be acceptable to more than 85 percent of the people of Iraqi Kurdistan. But there’s no doubt that if a referendum was held now, on the current draft of the Constitution, that we would urge people not to vote for it.
NIQASH: Recently the KDP and the PUK tried to nominate Iraq’s current President, Massoud Barzani, for a third term. But your party was against this step.
Tawfiq Rahim: According to Iraqi Kurdistan’s laws on the presidency and also according to the draft Constitution, the region’s president may only nominate themselves for two terms. According to that, Barzani doesn’t have the right to another term.
NIQASH: So you’re against Barzani re-nominating himself. Do you have any alternate candidates in mind?
Tawfiq Rahim: We believe that the main reason the KDP is so keen on getting the Constitution passed is to give Barzani the right to nominate himself for a third term in office. If that happens we will try to find someone who could compete against Barzani for the president’s post. But no decision has yet been taken in this regard. And we don’t know if we would nominate our own candidate from within the Change Movement or whether we would cooperate with other opposition parties to come up with a suitable candidate.
NIQASH: Barzani also recently announced that Iraqi Kurdistan’s next elections would be held in September this year. How do you think all of these unresolved issues are going to play out, if everyone goes to the polls?
Tawfiq Rahim: We hope that the elections will be held on time and that they won’t be postponed because of any unresolved issues. We’re very optimistic that votes for the opposition will increase in Iraqi Kurdistan – especially if new measures are introduced to reduce voter fraud.
NIQASH: When you talk about more opposition, are you saying that you would join with other opposition parties to compete as one group?
Tawfiq Rahim: No. Each opposition party will have its own list. But we will certainly enter into dialogue with other parties immediately after the elections.
NIQASH: The ruling parties in Iraqi Kurdistan says that the Change Movement is very hard to deal with and that you just cannot work with other parties. In fact, they say that the Change Movement always opposes anything other Iraqi Kurdish politicians do, and even in Baghdad where it’s often important for Iraq’s Kurds to remain united.
Tawfiq Rahim: We often criticize the two ruling Iraqi Kurdish parties in Baghdad – the KDP and the PUK - because they don’t actually work in the interests of the Kurdish. When the Iraqi Kurdish ministers and MPS boycotted parliamentary proceedings in Baghdad recently they did so because [Prime Minister Nouri] al-Maliki refused to pay them the oil money the region was due. But as soon as he promised to pay it, they all returned.
And why don’t they do anything about the disputed areas when they hold such positions of power as ministers?
It pains me to say that Iraqi Kurdish participation in the higher echelons of the Iraqi government has mainly achieved narrow partisan and personal gains.
NIQASH: But when the Iraqi Kurdish MPs withdrew from Baghdad, eight of your own people actually joined them.
Tawfiq Rahim: During the boycott our MPs also had to join in. If they had not, then it would have been said that the Change Movement was against Kurdish unity. We also have problems with al-Maliki but they’re not so much to do with oil. They are more about the disputed areas, the decision-making process in Baghdad and Baghdad’s treatment of the peshmerga [Iraqi Kurdistan’s security forces]. And we even took part in the recent provincial elections with the other Iraqi Kurdish parties as one list so that we couldn’t be accused of sabotaging Kurdish unity or splitting the Kurdish vote.