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forming iraqi kurdistan’s new coalition government
a democratic dream come true

Sangar Jamal
Three weeks since parliamentary elections in Iraqi Kurdistan and despite a shake up in the political rankings, no government has been formed as yet. There is a lot of local talk about a broad-based coalition that…
24.10.2013  |  Sulaymaniyah

Three weeks have passed since the final results of elections in the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan were announced.These results indicated what was widely acknowledged as a change in the power balance between the region’s three major parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Change movement. Formerly the strongest parties in Iraqi Kurdistan, which has its own parliament, legislation and military, were the KDP and the PUK. Those two parties shared power in the region and generally acted as close allies. But after the late September elections, the Change party – considered the major opposition there - became the second most popular political party in the region, bumping the PUK out of second place.

Official results confirm the KDP won 38 seats and the Change movement, also known as Goran, won 24. The PUK’s share of seats in the local 111-seat parliament fell to 18 while the two main Islamic parties, which have also been in opposition, won 16 together. The four remaining seats were split between the Kurdistan Islamic Movement, the local Social Democrats, the Communists and a party known as The Third Direction.

Another 11 seats are reserved for minority representation and these were split between local Assyrians, Armenian and Turkman parties.

Any coalition that possesses over half of the seats in the parliament – that is, 56 seats – can form a government.

And local laws say that if the smaller parties cannot form a coalition, then the party with the most votes - the KDP - must. But currently that seems far from a simple task.

Local analysts have come up with a variety of scenarios. The first scenario involves a very broad kind of coalition in which all political parties participate. The second and third scenarios see the KDP forming a government with one of the two runners-up in the elections – either the PUK or the Change movement. A further scenario might see a coalition formed by the KDP that involves both the PUK and the Change movement.

The KDP-PUK coalition looks most likely. But despite the fact that the KDP and PUK have been closely allied in the past, no announcement about political nuptials between the two parties has been made. Like many minor partners in a governing coalition in many parliaments around the world – Germany’s Free Democratic Party is one of the latest examples - it seems the PUK are worried that by allying themselves with the stronger party again, they will only lose more power and support.

Additionally the KDP’s other potential partner in any collation, the Change movement, has expressed a willingness to participate in government.

“We have proven that we are the second-most powerful force in Iraqi Kurdistan,” Shorsh Haji, a leading member of the Change movement, told NIQASH. “And we intend to participate in the government so that we can get started on our program of reforms, from within the government.”

Despite their willingness though, no final decisions had been made, Haji admitted. It would all depend on the attitude of the political party that was eventually assigned the task of forming a government – this would very likely be the KDP. “It will depend on that party’s willingness to make the reforms we want adopted as part of the government’s program.” Haji explained. “If that party is willing to adopt those reforms, and if they can come up with a reasonable way of implementing those reforms, then we would become part of the government.”

If the Change movement doesn’t become part of the next government in Iraqi Kurdistan then it will certainly be able to form a very strong opposition, especially if it continues to collaborate with the Islamic parties as it has been doing. Also worth remembering is the fact that the Change movement began as a break away party from the PUK, composed of a former PUK leader, Nashirwan Mustafa and others who left in 2006 , demanding an end to corruption and nepotism among the PUK leaders. There has been tension, and even violence, between the PUK and the Change movement ever since.

Winning seats in an election is vastly different from the capacity to work and negotiate within a political environment, comments Borhan Yassin, a senior lecturer at Lund University in Sweden specialising in Kurdish issues.

“Forming a government after these elections is going to be very difficult because of the radical change in the balance of power in Iraqi Kurdistan,” he told NIQASH.

Because the balance of power between the PUK and KDP is now longer even, Yassin believes that a broad based coalition that includes all parties would be a good idea. Previously he was opposed to this idea.

The KDP itself also seems to like this idea, having made encouraging noises about a broad based coalition. Spokesperson Jafar Ibrahim Eminki has already announced that his party supports that plan. But at the same time he said the KDP wouldn’t have any conditions forced upon it.

And the PUK was already ruling out the idea of ever going into opposition. “We support the idea of a broad based government,” Saadi Ahmad Bira, a political strategist with the PUK, told NIQASH, adding that the PUK as a responsible party, wouldn’t go into the opposition. He also noted that “a government cannot be formed by numbers and mathematics alone. The PUK isn’t just a political party,” he said referring to the many different parts of Iraqi Kurdish society over which the PUK has historically held sway. “And I don’t think a government cannot be formed without it.”

Meanwhile the two Islamic parties, who have a total of 16 seats between them, say they wouldn’t mind being included in a government coalition too - but only if they are not marginalized.

“We want to participate in the government as partners, not as a marginalized group,” politician Mohammed Hakim, who belongs to the Kurdistan Islamic Union, told NIQASH. “If that happens, we won’t take part in the government.”

Hakim believes that what will eventually happen is that the KDP and the PUK will get together again to form a government and leave the region with a strong opposition. “It’s not possible to have a parliament without an opposition,” he notes.

If that happens – and it does seem to be the outcome that is most probable, despite all the talk of a broad based coalition – then the biggest difference will be in the margins. The government would have 56 seats instead of its previous 59 and the opposition would have 40 seats instead of 33. How that far closer margin between political combatants manifests itself in the day-to-day running of the region is obviously yet to be seen.