June 1, 2010

Will the PUK third conference retire its ‘old time’ leaders? - By Mufid Abdulla

35 years ago South Kurdistan was at boiling point as its people endured brutal oppression by Saddam’s regime. It was during this period that the PUK was founded, by Talabani and his colleagues, to defend the people.  At the time the overwhelming emotion in Kurdistan was fear.  In subsequent years, the PUK fought an armed struggle and thousands of its followers sacrificed their lives in pursuit of our dream of national independence. In 1992, at the height of the liberation struggle, the PUK was effectively in charge. Today, however, the shape of the conflict has changed and the PUK is no longer the dominant political force in the region. Instead of adapting to new realities, it is controlled by a leadership of ‘old timers’ who live in the past.

On the eve of a turbulent period for the PUK, coinciding with their third conference on 1st June 2010, it is hard to see what could have been done differently to avert the internal disunity of the PUK leadership. When the crisis developed inside the PUK, Talabani was the first to promise his followers immediate reform. But this was never forthcoming. It is hard to work out why Talabani failed to attempt to deliver any reform. In the past two elections, for the Kurdistan parliament and Iraqi parliament, the PUK lost most of its ground in Sulaymania and the Hawler region. In the coming elections in these areas to local councils, the PUK could disappear altogether as an effective political force. What evidence is there that the PUK has adjusted itself to the reality of the modern world, instead of staring into the abyss and staggering from one failure to another? To date, with the exception of Nawshirwan Mustafa, no individual has emerged from within the PUK who can provide effective policies and leadership for a new era.

For the PUK to have a future it needs to agree on two significant changes at its conference.

First, the elected leader of the conference should allow younger candidates to put forward their names for election as party leaders who will sit on the 22-member central committee – with the proviso that these younger candidates must not have been involved with the PUK for more than 10 years.

Second, and crucially, the conference must take bold and decisive action in terminating the role and duties of Talabani as the PUK Secretary General and replacing him with a competent, younger person who will lead and completely restructure the organisation. As PUK grassroots members increasingly understand, Talabani has played a disastrous role in Kurdistan for the past 17 years and contributed very little to the development of new political thinking within the party. It is hard to see what the PUK could have done differently under the existing leadership. It is vital that the PUK reformers win out over the hardliners.


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