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.