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Rudaw

Opinion

The Dialectics of Democracy in Iraqi Kurdistan

By Amir Sharifi 7/10/2013
Dr. Amir Shrifi
Dr. Amir Shrifi

 

The autonomous Kurdistan Region in northern Iraq has traditionally been dominated by the two big parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). But last month’s parliamentary elections broke the PUK’s stranglehold on politics, opening fresh possibilities for a new political culture.

If this trend continues and fair future conditions are created for opposition, Kurdistan can be a model for democracy in the Middle East. This is particularly important now, when the “Arab Spring” has descended into cynicism and the entire region is caught in the gruesome legacy of sectarian violence, fraudulent elections, theocracies and autocracies.

In this neighborhood and under these conditions, it is refreshing to see that Kurds of southern (Iraqi) Kurdistan picked the ballot box again.

The September 21 elections can indeed have three important ramifications.

Firstly, the strong, enthusiastic turnout at the polls reflects the popular commitment to democracy and the will to sustain and cherish the principles of democratic elections. Even optimists were surprised by the turnout: Almost 74 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots for one of several political parties running in for Kurdistan’s own 111-seat legislature.  They wanted their voices to be heard for the peaceful transition from a two-party system to a multiparty government that is accountable to the people.

Secondly, officials in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) have come to understand that a genuine democracy is not limited to just holding elections. They have understood that genuine elections mean providing equal resources – including media time – to the opposition.

The voters’ desires this time went beyond the reaffirmation of autonomy. They had clustered their demands around various alternatives and possibilities, including principles of freedom, justice, equality and general welfare. Although ruling parties attempted to continue their hegemony, the voters called into question the traditional bipartisan governance.

Thirdly, although the parties in power ran to ensure their re-election, the election results were surprising. The KDP was able to hold on to its leading role. But the PUK’s defeat at the hands of the breakaway Change Movement (Gorran) have forced the PUK to reexamine its place and policies and the reasons behind its decline.

The election results revealed that the PUK’s problems are deep. It had increasingly become a party for members, and pursued its own narrow interests. It failed to expand its base by radicalizing its platform through seeking the greater public good. In other words, it failed to develop politics beyond its seizure of power.

Their conservative politics and call for timid reforms gave way to call for radical reforms by Gorran, which had made a clear break with the past and was preparing the ground for a call for new changes. It did so by questioning the KDP and PUK and keeping both at arm’s length.

Gorran had consistently run on a program sharply critical of the political structure, attacking pervasive corruption, lack of checks-and-balances and the unfair distribution of wealth.

Gorran is now obliged to use this mandate beyond philosophical debates, and must propose and enact real reforms to increase per capita income and reduce social and economic inequalities.

Th Kurds of southern Kurdistan have historically shown that they have a keen understanding and more mature interest in democracy, as well as an unwavering quest for freedom. They showed this again at the polls. Perhaps they have taken a democratic initiative whose implications transcend the Kurdistan Region’s own boundaries.

Dr. Amir Sharifi is president of the Kurdish American Education Society-Los Angeles

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Mamo Atrushi | 7/10/2013
Most unrealistic writers start their articles by disapproving the long term of PUK and KDP forming the government forgetting they represented the majority of people of Kurdistan for decades. Is it fair for a party with majority to say good bye and let minority to replace them. Gorran had no reform plan in the past and now,too.They know only how to hit their tables, throwing bottles, promising the naive people unreal promises and having no real plan for the Kurds except their interests if they share the government. They plant hatred and disunity among the Kurds.
Slameni | 7/10/2013
False analyse. You say that the PDK was able to hold on to its leading role. You talk like that the PDK get the same votes like in the last elections, but that's not true, they increase their votes dramatically, with an increase of 8%. And you say that Gorran won over PUK, thats also not true, gorran also lost one seat, so they dont get any seat from the PUK, all the 12 seats that the PUK, did the PDK and the Islamic parties won. If you make an election analyse, you must compare the electrons with the last elections 2009 and not with the situation in 1991. And compared with the last elections Gorran lost one seat.
Ari | 7/10/2013
PUK election result is not connected with Gorran insane criticism . Gorran by it self has lost this election too by one seat. PUK leadership committee was not active as it suppose to be . There are many reason for that and no one of them related to Change movement.
Slemani | 7/10/2013
Again for those who don't understand it, PDK won 38 seats they won +8 seats compared with the last elections. gorran won 24 seats -1 seat, YNK 18 seats -11, Yakgrtu 10 seats +4, Komal 6 seats +2. So only YNK and Gorran lost some seats.
Marlene | 16/10/2013
good job
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