The politics of persons

March 30, 2011

The recent brief but serious media escalation between KDP and Komal is a serious warning and proof of the fragility of the Kurdistan region’s politics. It also raises many questions about the viability of our system and the strength of the political process.
These types of disasters materialize from time to time because of several factors.
Weak institutions and personalized politics are key factors, and have played a big role in further complicating the situation.
When the demonstrations began, the government ignored them and called the protestors troublemakers (azhaweger in Kurdish).
When the region’s President returned to Kurdistan, he announced in the airport that he supported the people’s right to demonstrate. Everything changed at that moment, and the government started to deal with the protesters’ demands.
When reforms are proposed, when demands are made and when they are responded to, a personalized dimension is always at play.
The leader continues to be much more important than the process, or the institution.
A source close to the protestors told me that when prime minister Barham Salih responded to their demands, “even if he says yes to all of our demands or agrees to implement all of them we will not accept it”.
When I asked him why, he said: “if Kak Masoud offered half of what the prime minister committed to, we would have had a more positive response — because we know he can deliver”.
This kind of personalization is not exclusive to decision-making. It extends to the level of personalizing the relationship between political partners and allies.
The heated exchanges between KDP and Komal’s media outlets – each have been lampooning the other’s leaders — is another aspect of our personalized politics.
The interesting thing here is while the debates are over current-day issues, both sides are hanging each other’s dirty laundry from a previous era, one even before their recent political partnerships and agreements.
This is, of course, fueled by a partisan media that lives for conflicts such as the KDP-Komal debate, and only knows how to be for or against the party that is dealing with them.
Journalists and writers are the other group that contributes to escalating the situation by waiting to study their leader’s moods, and then deciding what he would like to read. This occurs even if it against all of their beliefs, as we have seen recently in the media.
As things stand, the standoff between the authorities and the opposition — or between the leaders — continues. Unless this is defused, many other serious side effects and complications could emerge and jeopardize any potential progress.
Despite the demonstrators’ popular and just demands, the region’s politics remains personal. In fact, the current standoff is created by leaders and can be defused by them.
The reality is that leaders are still more powerful than institutions in the region. Unless these leaders meet face-to-face and find a common ground, the region, the political process and the just demands of the protestors are all heading to the unknown.

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