March 15, 2009

Time for Democratic Change in Kurdistan - By Delovan Barwari

For many years Iraqi Kurds have claimed to be the beacon of democracy in the Middle East, especially in Iraq. Perhaps, to a certain degree Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) holds some of the democratic values. As Colonel Dick Nab (head of Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraqi-Kurdistan in 2003) stated, “It is not quite a democracy, but rather near democracy”. Therefore, to rightfully continue claiming the title of being democratic, there is great need for democratic advancement and reforms.  The upcoming election scheduled for May of 2009 is the greatest opportunity for the ruling parties within KRG (Kurdistan Democratic Party and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) to begin a new chapter in the history of Kurdish movement by deeply connecting with its people through upholding the fundamental principles of democracy.

As the United States toppled the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, Iraq has been transitioning from a dictatorship with a single party system, into a newly developing multi-party democratic system one. It is not a true democracy yet; however, the recent elections held on January 30th with over 14000 candidates, including over 4000 female candidates, and dozens of freely political parties participating. It is a valid premise to argue that Iraq has surpassed KRG when it comes to democratic elections.    

Democracy has a set of principles attached. In order to claim to be democratic, KRG is obligated to uphold certain principles. Most importantly the power of the government must be rooted within its people.  In order to prevail, KRG must be a government in which power and civic responsibility are freely practiced by all citizens, directly or through their freely elected representatives. It must understand that their fundamental purpose is to protect basic human rights, such as freedom of speech, press, assembly and religion; it must be a government of tolerance to diverse opinions and views, and the right to equal protection under the law. It must allow its citizens to freely exercise political, social, and cultural life.

On the one hand, KRG advocates some of the principles of democracy, such as respecting the social, cultural, and religious rights of its citizens, and having an inclusive parliament representing various ethnic and religious groups (Assyrians, Arabs, and Turkmans) residing in Iraqi-Kurdistan. Additionally, in comparison to the majority of the Middle Eastern governments, KRG is highly tolerant to women’s rights; it promotes the rights of women in politics, education, and the work force. On the other hand, there are a number of deficiencies that requires democratic reform.  For example, according to various reports released by news outlets and feedback from various people visiting Kurdistan, it is evident that the ruling parties have violated several basic human rights exercised in western democracies, such as detainment of journalists for reporting on corruption, imposing censorship on writers’ content, disallowing demonstrations, and controlling student organizations.

The year 2009 is viewed by many as a year of change. Unquestionably, there is a change in Washington from George W. Bush’s administration to a newly elected administration of Barack Obama, empowered with a slogan of hope and change. President Obama has vowed to implement changes not only to the domestic issues of United States, but rather foreign policy as well. As the new Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, started her first official tour by visiting Israel, West Bank, Turkey, Russia, and China, and shaking the hands of the Syrian ambassador at the Gaza donor’s conference in Egypt, it is apparent that the new administration is more focused on rebuilding its relations abroad and less focused on Iraq. Therefore it is highly critical for the Kurdish government to implement Obama’s doctrine of change to the government of Arbil (the capital of Iraqi-Kurdistan) as well, to further illustrate that it is an important ally and worthy of protection.

There are numerous other reasons why KRG should honor the mentioned principles. Most importantly, the people of Kurdistan feel highly disconnected and neglected by the ruling political parties in Kurdistan; they are fed up with corruption and nepotism and are hungry for radical political change.  In order to gain the Kurdish nation’s full support (being the main reason they have managed to stay in power), it is critical for KRG to connect deeply with its citizens and prove to the world that the power of KRG is the power of its people.  Furthermore, it is essential to lead and support the notion of democracy as it was declared to be the main objective of the Bush administration for the Middle East; and to further legitimize autonomy and democracy for six million Kurds in Iraqi-Kurdistan, and over thirty million in the greater Kurdistan  (Turkey, Iran, and Syria).

KRG must not fear opposition groups as it is one of the most essential elements in any democratic government. Opposition parties enable competitiveness and progression of nations. The true power of any political party or government must stem from the services, benefits, and privileges it provides to its people. Without popular support the existence of KRG and the people of Kurdistan would once again be in serious danger. It must not be forgotten that Kurds have given enormous sacrifices; hundreds of thousands of martyrs, driven by the aspiration of a nation’s desire for freedom, equality, and statehood.

Indeed, KRG has a great opportunity and sufficient time to set a series of reforms prior to the set elections to demonstrate to the Kurdish nation and to the international community that it is an evolving democracy and a government of tolerance.  In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “intolerance is itself a form of violence and an obstacle to the growth of a true democratic spirit.”


Delovan Barwari is a freelance writer from southern Kurdistan:


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