In a written address to the people of Kurdistan on Tuesday, President of Kurdistan Region Massoud Barzani implied for the first time that he will not run for office in the next Presidential elections the date of which is yet to be determined after the current term of parliament and Barzani's office were extended by the parliament for another two years.
Barzani's address comes after a period of silence as the political parties in Kurdistan, Barzani's own KDP and their ally PUK on the one hand, and the opposition parties, Gorran, IUK, KIG on the other were, and still are, locked in a heated debate over the legality of the parliament extension of the life of the current term of parliament, and the presidential term allegedly to give the political factions more time to settle the questions of whether the current presidential elections allows Barzani to run for a third term in office or not, and the question of amending the Kurdistan Constitution bill which was passed by the majority vote, KDP+PUK, in 2009.
The opposition parties accuse the KDP and PUK who have had what they call the "strategic agreement" since 2007 to rule the semi-autonomous region together, entering the elections as allies rather than rivals, of trying to keep Barzani in office for another four years without any regard for the Presidential Law which states the President can run for two terms of four years. Barzani has already served two terms in office.
On May 5, Barzani said in an online statement that he never asked his party and their ally to try to guarantee a third term for him. That he never asked to be President but was nominated by his own party and was elected by the people of Kuridstan. But he did not explicitly say that he would not run for a third term if the KDP and PUK faction in parliament found a loop in the Presidential Law or passed new legislation allowing him third term.
In Tuesday address, however, for the first time he implied that he will hand over his office to the "new elected president" after the parliament finds a consensus on the mechanism to amend the Kurdistan Constitution draft and the Presidential Law in on year.
"As of now, I call on the presidency of the next parliamentary term, under the light of the letter I sent to the current term of the parliament on 12/6/2013, to immediately find in its initial meetings, after the 21/9/2013 elections [are held], a mechanism whereby in less than a year it will reach a consensus on amending the Constitution bill and the mechanism of how to elect the President of the Region. Then elections be held for a new President for the Region so we hand over the trust we hold [presidential office] to any person who wins the confidence of the people of Kurdistan." a Kurdish language version of the address posted on the Presidential website said in one paragraph.
At first look, this sounds positive that he has committed himself to handing over powers to a new President which normally means someone else not himself, but I find it not so positive when looking at the politics of Kurdistan in general and the KDP politics in particular and that's why I am saying he implied not said.
According to the address. the election of a new president is dependent on the parliament's ability to find a consensus on how to amend the Constitution bill and the mechanism of electing the president, whether through a direct vote by the people, or a two third of the parliament. The direct vote is KDP's preference and this is how Barzani was elected twice, while the two-third vote of parliament is the PUK's and is also supported by the opposition parties. The Iraqi President, Jalal Talabani - PUK leader - was elected by a two-third parliamentary vote in the Iraqi parliament with the support of the KDP, and according to the "strategic agreement" between the KDP and PUK the President of Kurdistan would have to elected by the same mechanism by which the president of Iraq is elected, this was part of the power-sharing deal between the two parties according to documents (Kurdish and Arabic) leaked by Nawshirwan Mustafa, leader of the main opposition party Gorran who was a former PUK leadership member.
Going back to why the President's address is not so positive. It is not that I don't trust Barzani for his words, but because I do not trust his party. Last time Barzani said he did not ask anyone to extend his office or find a way for him to remain in office for a third term, the KDP demanded that the Kurdistan Constitution bill be put to vote which deepened the crisis. The passage of the bill was interpreted by the opposition parties as giving the President a lot of powers and that it would turn the political system into a presidential one rather than a parliamentary one which currently is. And the opposition parties know well that the KDP is the strongest party in the Kurdistan Region and may well dominate the Presidency frost or quite the next few terms at least and the many powers the president would have could be used against the opposition parties in favor of the ruling party.
The opposition was now left between the rock and the hard place. To accept a third term for Barzani or the Constitution bill being put to vote which would for sure be passed by a majority of 50+1 considering the size of the KDP and their ally PUK's fan base. The KDP has been cleverly manipulating the political arena of Kurdistan by raising a crisis whenever it is under pressure. Whenever it feels the press of the opposition parties for what wants to do, it raises another bigger crisis so that the opposition will accept the previous demands. In this case it was the Constitution draft. As the opposition parties resisted, the KDP - through by the KDP-led alliance in the parliament - introduced a second crisis on June 30: the extension of the parliament and the presidency for another two years . The two bills were passed the same day without paying any heed to the opposition MPs outrage and protests.
Barzani was abroad when the parliament extended the life of the parliament and the presidency. Media source said Barzani would have his own observations on the two laws upon his return hence the written address on Tuesday.
Now, as I said earlier, it is not that I do not trust Barzani for his words, but his KDP. Now that Barzani has said he will hand over power to the new elected president after the parliament has found consensus on how to elect the president or what to amend in the constitution in time frame no longer than one year, I am afraid that the KDP will introduce more crises so the day never comes when the parliament agrees on such mechanisms and this will give Barzani more time to remain in office until the issues are settled.
The paragraph in Barzani's address sure sounds positive when poising for a while on the words "handing over" and a "new president", but stings when going over the words "consensus on the constitution [draft] and the mechanism on how to elect the President". Barzani cleverly cleverly introduces the one year time frame so that he is not accused of wanting to prolong his office yet there is no guarantee that the parliament will ever find a consensus on the Constitution draft and on the mechanism on how to elect the President that's if no more political crises do not come forth to hinder the talks on these two main issues.
If there is no guarantee the Parliament will settle those issue, and if there is no guarantee in Barzani's address itself that he will not accept running for a third term or remaining in office longer than the one year time frame, then what is the solution? Sardar Aziz, a Kurdish author and visiting lecturer at the University College Cork Ireland, also an observer and commentator on the Kurdish politics, believes that only public pressure on Barzani can guarantee an end to his office. He has said in an article posted on Malmo Kurd website that some of what Barzani has said can only be viewed as positive with "great suspicion".
And what has got Barzani to utter those lines, according to Aziz, "is the result of the efforts of the opposition [parties], and public protests. The President will have to be held to account for these: not running for office gain, returning the Constitution [to parliament for amendment], setting his temporary office to a less than a year timeframe, provided that this is not dependent on compromises on the constitution. In that time period, Barzani's extension should expire if he succeeds, or fails, to get a consensus on the constitution,"
Sardar Aziz article
Barzani's May statement
Barzani's July address