Kurds Still Without Govt After January Poll

ARBIL, Iraq – The two main Kurdish parties have still not reached agreement on setting up a regional government and parliament after elections held Jan. 30.

In that election Kurds voted for the National Assembly and also for a 111-seat regional parliament. A coalition comprising the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) won 104 seats in the parliament.

Kurds had established their own regional and government under U.S. and British protection after rising against the Saddam Hussein regime in 1991 after the first Gulf War. But a civil war between the different Kurdish factions broke out in 1994.

Following the end of that war in 1997, the two parties set up their separate administrations, with the KDP controlling the Arbil and Dohuk governorates, and the PUK Sulaimaniya and parts of Kirkuk.

The two parties set those differences aside for the purpose of contesting the election early this year. But the two parties failed to come together, despite the intervention of independent leaders. This has led to widespread public anger with both.

Festering differences between the parties surfaced shortly before the first session of the regional parliament was due April 24. The differences arose over choice of president and the role of president.

The two parties differ over fundamental issues such as the relative powers of the prime minister and the president, whether the president must be elected by popular mandate or by parliament, and the length of his term.

The KDP wants the post of president to be functional rather than ceremonial, and that he should be elected by popular vote for a four-year term. The PUK does not share this view.

Despite widespread protests over the delay of the first session of the Kurdistan parliament, the two major parties insist they want to resolve differences at behind the scenes negotiations before parliament can debate the issue.

By way of putting pressure on the parties, 17 newly elected Kurdish MPs threatened on May 17 that they will enter the parliament building Wednesday (May 25) and take their seats even if the parties fail to reach agreement. They say the differences should be settled in parliament itself.

But only two of the 17 turned up at the parliament building Wednesday.

"We want to tell people that we are ready to convene and as the elected candidates of the people we have a right to do so," Nouri Talabani, regional parliament MP from Kirkuk told IPS. "If they had put the issue before parliament, it would have been resolved earlier."

While blaming one another for the deadlock, both parties say a solution is likely soon.

"We have identical views on many issues and will reach an agreement. There are no major differences between us," Omar Sayid Ali, a senior member of the PUK politburo told IPS. "Both sides are ready for working out a solution, because an agreement has to be reached."

The PUK politburo proposed a new law on presidency to the KDP earlier this week in a bid to end the impasse. Amid indications that the KDP could agree to this proposal, a meeting by the two parties to announce an agreement could come soon.

Meanwhile, the Kurdistan region remains in administrative limbo.

"Kurdistan is facing a crisis of legitimacy, since the two separate administrations of the major parties operate without the existence of a legislature," local journalist Hawar Ahmad told IPS.

"Besides, don’t forget that the role of the Kurdistan parliament has always been a symbolic one, and everything is settled at behind the scenes talks between leaders of the parties," Ahmad said.