The Fate of Democracy in Kurdistan


   In a region of staggering instability, President Massoud Barzani has maintained steadfast control over his government and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Originally appointed to the presidency by Parliament in 2005, he has a decade long legacy of moderate policies, democratic enhancements, and a strong history of security. However, his golden age of power was meant to sunset on August 19, 2015.

   The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) is insisting on a 2 year extension because of security threats in the region. This may sound familiar, because Barzani’s term was already extended in 2013 by 2 years before ISIS was even a significant threat.

   When his term was last extended, Article 1 of Law number 19 of the Kurdish parliament stated, “The term of the president that expires on August 20, 2013, will be extended until August 19, 2015, and cannot be extended for a second time.”

   The KDP has tried arguing that since Barzani was technically appointed to the presidency by Parliament in 2005 and not elected until 2009, he should be legally able to run for another term. They’ve also tried petitioning the Kurdistan Consultative Council to rule on whether or not Barzani can extend his term once more, but the request never came to fruition due to the unrequited required approval by the Speaker of Parliament.

    Realistically, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq is in no shape financially or security-wise to host an electoral election. The lack of financial support would make it impossible for the High Electoral Commission to run an election at all, never mind a fair one.

   However, a 12 year term as president is not in the region’s best interest either. History shows that centralized power in the hands of one individual makes them virtually the only decision-maker after a certain period of time. Presidential dominance will drive away the best potential officials who will go abroad or into private business instead because of the lack of opportunity. Countless examples of the negative effects of long terms in office can be seen in many of Africa’s leaders such as President Museveni of Uganda, President Bashir of Sudan, President Kabila of Congo, and many more. That’s not to mention the Middle East’s reputation for dictatorial governments stemming from the extension of originally elected terms.

   Of course, term limits place some restrictions on democratic choice, but governments with weak institutional restraints on executive power generally have more substantial problems to worry about. Even if Barzani is the best politician for the job, the region of Kurdistan would benefit from a change in power on an institutional stability basis. Furthermore, there’s no law to say that Barzani can’t act as an advisor in some official or unofficial capacity to the new President.

   To solve the issue of leadership most quickly, cost effectively, and securely Parliament should elect a qualified President accepted by the majority of political parties in the region. International leaders, such as the United States, can help make this transition successful by voicing support and continuing the under the table involvement in Kurdistan’s politics.


Hong Kong Protests: Occupy Wall Street Failure All Over Again?

Credit: Stock Logos

Credit: Stock Logos

A 400 square mile island in the South China Sea is trying to defy China’s government. Hong Kong is approaching the 8th week of pro-democracy protests, but many are wondering how much longer the demonstrators will hold out.

Originally 100,000 strong, the number of protesters has dwindled down to a few hundred. On November 18th, police cleared barricades near government headquarters with the protesters’ help. Many people see this as the beginning of the end for Occupy Central With Love and Peace, others as a sign the movement will remain a peaceful resistance. The joint effort occurred following an appeal from former Hong Kong chief justice Andrew Li not to damage the ‘rule of law‘.

The largest protest to hit the city since the transfer of power from Britain to China in 1997, there are those who aren’t giving up so easily. In response to the police action on November 18th, a small group of protesters tried to force their way into the city’s legislative building. Four of which were arrested.

The leaders of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, the catalysts for Hong Kong’s protests, denounced this aggressive action saying the movement has been and will remain peaceful.

Even so, negative feelings toward the pro-democracy movement have grown as business continues to be disrupted. Polls now say 70% of people want the Occupy Central demonstrators to go home.

Still some are unclear as to why the protests started in the first place. The Occupy Central With Love website released an English statement citing two reasons behind their protests:

OCLP has two demands:

(1) The immediate withdrawal of the NPCSC’s decision on the framework for Hong Kong’s political reform

(2) The swift resumption of the political reform consultation. The Leung Chun-ying administration has failed in the political reform process. We demand Leung re-submits a new political reform report to the central government which fully reflects the Hong Kong people’s aspirations for democracy. If Leung refuses to respond, the action will escalate.

But what does this even mean?

The NPCSC, or China’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee was supposed to allow free elections for the territory’s leader, according to Basic Law.

But, in August the NPCSC ruled out any more voting reforms, making it so only the candidates Beijing approves can run.

The protest’s goal is to force Leung chun-ying, Hong Kong’s Communist- Chinese appointed leader, to force China into following up on their previous promises for universal suffrage.

Some pro-democracy advocates call for the move to more aggressive protests to spur action, while others still call for the end to the demonstrations in general. Whether or not the movement is fading remains to be seen.