A New Role for Barzani

June 8, 2013

Some bygone conflict between Kurdistan’s two ruling parties—The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Democratic Party of Kurdistan (KDP)—seems to be resurfacing again. It has already started on social media and it might just as well translate into a full-scale conflict.
The symptoms began to show immediately after the 38th anniversary of PUK’s foundation. Since then the autonomous region is officially split over the issue of its constitution.
The KDP by itself is in one front and its strategic partner as well as the opposition parties in another. One side—PUK and opposition groups—argue that the constitution should be sent back to parliament for amendments. The other—KDP—says that only referendum and a popular vote can settle this matter.
This region is prone to serious divisions and opposite views on every major or minor development. In any case, this saga can go on forever and further polarize the Kurdish political sphere with dangerous consequences.
Here, greater responsibilities fall on President Massoud Barzani’s shoulders who is at the epicenter of this whole conflict.
His opponents say that his insistence on putting the constitution through referendum is to ensure his stay in power, and so far his party’s attitude has reinforced that notion.
But Barzani should have tried from the start to avoid such a position by keeping at a distance from a matter that is for political parties and members of parliament to decide. In the end he could still have the final say.
It is often to avert situations like that of Kurdistan today that obliges modern democracies to ask presidents and prime ministers to put aside their party tendencies.
When he assumed his post as president of the Kurdistan Region, there were similar calls who urged Barzani to leave his party duties and be a president for all.
Constitutions are usually a means to unite people. But in Kurdistan that doesn’t seem to be the case. The current draft is clearly dividing the Kurds. But once again, the president should not be part of this division and should instead work to ease the tensions.
Barzani has managed to keep the Kurds in a fairly balanced position in a volatile Middle East by playing his cards carefully in a regional game. He should also be able to do the same domestically.
His own party and close advisors should help him move from taking sides to the center and a more neutral position. After all, this is his first and real internal issue to handle in the absence of PUK leader Jalal Talabani.

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