Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani has reportedly told opposition leaders in a rare meeting on 17 January that he supports holding elections on schedule.
Delays in elections have been common in recent years in the Kurdistan Region.
Barzani, who is also the head of the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party, met the three opposition leaders — Nawshirwan Mustafa of the Change (Gorran) Movement, Kurdistan Islamic Union’s Muhammad Faraj and Kurdistan Islamic Group’s Ali Bapir — at his office in Salah-al-Din resort, Erbil.
Relations between the ruling and opposition parties soured following large-scale protests between February and April 2011 and several rounds of talks have been held between the two since, but this is the first time their leaders come together.
The Kurdistan Region’s three provinces are yet to hold provincial elections originally set for 2009. But now, these, a parliamentary election and a much-debated presidential election are all due in 2013.
Little about the meeting has been released to the media.
Regional Presidency’s report
The presidency issued an 82-word report on its website providing a brief outline of the meeting.
It said: “In the meeting, the situation in the Kurdistan Region, relations between the political sides in Kurdistan and national unity were discussed. The meeting was held in a very positive atmosphere. It was also decided that the meetings would continue to reach an outcome that will be in the interest of the people of Kurdistan.”
KIU’s official website said that the opposition leaders had submitted several demands to Barzani during the Thursday meeting, including practical responses to the three groups’ joint “reform” packages, amending Kurdistan Region’s draft constitution, holding elections on time and forming the region’s election commission.
In the wake of 2011 anti-government protests, the three groups presented to the ruling parties a six-part package calling for wide reforms in the region’s political, economic and security system.
The website said that in the one-hour meeting, Barzani expressed support for the opposition’s demands, but pointed out that they should agree on a mechanism for their implementation. It also said that Barzani told the opposition that he “always supported holding elections on schedule, but other sides were opposed to it”.
The report said that Barzani would hold a meeting with its ally, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), before holding a second round of talks with the opposition leaders to discuss the outcome of today’s meeting.
Barzani’s KDP and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani’s PUK currently run the Kurdistan Regional Government in a coalition and have taken part in several elections in recent years on a joint list.
The meeting comes amid talks about two crucial political developments.
First: The PUK and the three opposition groups have indicated that they support returning the region’s draft constitution to parliament for amendment.
Second: Fifty MPs from the Kurdistan Region’s 111-seat parliament have signed another draft bill calling for the establishment of a fully-fledged parliamentarian system in which the region’s president would be elected by parliament, and not by direct vote, as is the case now. The KDP bloc was reportedly the only bloc that did not sign the bill.
The KDP has not shown any interest in any of the two, for while one is strictly part of an effort by the opposition (on which the PUK seems to be on board) to change the governing system from presidential to parliamentary, the draft charter as it stands gives Barzani a chance to be re-elected for another two terms.
The meeting also coincides with uncertain times for the KDP’s partner, the PUK, and therefore the fate of their 2007-signed strategic agreement. PUK leader Talabani (79), who has been suffering from bad health in recent years, is currently being treated in Germany after suffering a stroke on 17 December. The party, which has been run by him since its inception in the mid-1970s, does not have a clear replacement for him if he does not recover and its future remains uncertain.
The KDP-PUK bloc in the region’s parliament has 59 seats, Gorran 23 (down from 25 after two MPs left the bloc), the KIU six and the KIG four.
Sources in Sorani Kurdish: Kurdiu, Kurdistan Region Presidency