Four Years of Fruitless Negotiations between the PUK and KDP will be settled out by the Iraqi Federal Court

23-12-2023 02:47

Peregraf- Erbil

Over the past four years, the Kurdistan Region’s ruling parties —the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK)— have been unable to resolve the main impediment to holding regional parliamentary elections, namely the status of the eleven seats reserved for ethnic and religious minorities. Despite numerous bilateral meetings and talks with the United Nations and other groups, the two parties remain at loggerheads.

The PUK and other political parties have asserted that the reserved seats act as de facto KDP MPs and do not authentically represent the interests of the minority communities. They have called for a reform of the minority representation system.

In part due to this disagreement between the ruling parties, regional elections did not take place as originally scheduled in October 2022. A stop-gap measure extending the term of the Kurdistan Parliament was ruled unconstitutional by the Federal Supreme Court (FSC). As a result, the Kurdistan Region is currently without an active legislature.

New elections are scheduled for February 25, 2024, which will be conducted by Iraq’s federal government under the authority of the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC). The federal Council of Ministers recently allocated 69.23 billion Iraqi dinars to finance the electoral process. However, it is not guaranteed that the elections will take place on that date. So far, no election in the Kurdistan Region has taken place on time since 1992.

Crucially, the issue of the reserved minority seats remains active. The FSC is currently considering a lawsuit by the PUK that would result in significant changes to the system. The KDP has objected to the lawsuit and accused the court of issuing politically influenced decision in the past. 

The KDP and the communities feel afraid and deeply worried

While the KDP claims that the MPs holding the reserved seats are independent, the minority legislators routinely vote in lockstep with the party. Combined, the 45 KDP MPs and the eleven minority MPs constitute a slight majority in the 111-seat Kurdistan Parliament. Any reduction in this would be a blow to the KDP’s power.

"We have been in debate with the political forces for four years to amend the electoral law and we tried to amend the law using a compromise, but we did not reach an agreement. So, we have resorted to the constitution and the law," Zyad Jabar, leader of the PUK caucus in the Kurdistan Parliament, told Peregraf.

"On the issue of minorities, the PUK emphasizes two points. First, the PUK believes that these seats should truly represent their communities. Second, wherever there is a minority in the Kurdistan Region, they should have representation and participate," Jabar added.

Specifically, the PUK’s lawsuit has challenged the legality of the Kurdistan Parliamentary Election Law No. 1 of 1992 (amended). They demand that the court annul amendments adopted since the original law passed three decades ago.

This would divide the Kurdistan Region up into three constituencies based on the three governorates that were active at the time: Duhok, Erbil, and Sulaimaniyah. The number of the reserved minority seats would also be reduced to five Christian seats and eliminate five Turkmen seats and one Armenian seat.

"The complaint is not only about the minorities. We have filed a complaint about Article 1, which is about the number of seats in parliament. In Iraq, every 100,000 people have a representative in parliament, but in Kurdistan it is not clear," Jabar said.

Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Prime Minister Masrour Barzani, who is a senior member of the KDP, sent a letter on December 11 to Iraqi Judicial Council President Fayeq Zedan, IHEC Chairperson Omar Ahmad, and UNAMI chief Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert asking them to intervene into the situation.

According to a press release, the letter “expressed concern and protest against the attempts to change the seats and rights of the Kurdistan Region’s minorities and called for these attempts to be prevented and the rights of the minorities not to be changed and protected."

A day earlier, KDP leader Masoud Barzani released a statement with a similar message. “President Barzani's view is that the communities should be allowed to decide their own fate," the statement said. "The minorities are an important part of Kurdistan’s society and their rights should not be mixed with any political and unfair interests," it added.

The candidates for the 11 seats of the ethnic and religious minorities basically require fewer votes than the candidates for the other 100 seats, therefore there were candidates of the communities who won seats in the last term of Kurdistan parliament with less than 200 votes.

For several consecutive terms, the KDP has secured community seats and paved the way for those candidates that have close ties to KDP to win, especially through early voting, as the votes of the security and armed forces are more directed and controlled by the KRG-ruling parties. Therefore, KDP is able to record comfortable win for 11 seats through the early voting.

IHEC proposes multi-constituency and the minorities hold different views on the issue

The differences within the ruling parties have spread to the communities, which are divided between the PUK and KDP. At a meeting with United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) representatives in Erbil in April, representatives of the Turkmen and Christian communities had different views on the elections.

The Turkmens have demanded that Kurdistan must have a single constituency, in addition, they have not been in favor of a special electoral register for them. However, representatives of Christians from Sulaymaniyah and Koya called for multi-constituency elections, casting votes separate from early voting and a separate electoral register.

"We asked for a seat to be allocated for Koya and Sulaymaniyah," Ramsi Hikmat, a Christian from Armota village, told Peregraf, The number of Christians in Koya and Armota, according to Ramsey, is more than four thousand.

The justification for their request is; in the past five terms of Kurdistan parliament, not a single Christian MP has visited the Christians of Koya and Sulaymaniyah to learn about their problems, "The Christian seats cannot be usurped for Erbil and Duhok. They do not represent Christians but they represent a particular party," Hikmat added.

The ethnic and religious communities live in the Kurdistan Region.  The ethnic communities are Turkmen, Chaldean, Syrian, Assyrian and Armenian, The religious communities are Christians, Yazidis, Sabi'a Mandais, Kakais, Shabak, Failis and Zoroastrians.

"The Christian parties that have close ties to the ruling party demanded a single constituency because they will be voted for by the ruling party in the early voting," Ramsey said.

In the last hearing of the PUK's complaint case, which was held on November 3, the Federal Court of Iraq sought the opinion of the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) on the constituencies in the Kurdistan Region and the distribution of seats for communities.

The IHEC proposed that the Kurdistan Region be divided into three constituencies and the seats in the parliament and the last seats should be divided among the three constituencies, so that the 100 seats in the Kurdistan Parliament; 41 for Sulaymaniyah, 34 for Erbil and 25 for Duhok.

The 11 seats of the communities should be divided into the three constituencies. Four seats for Sulaymaniyah, two for Chaldeans, Syrians and Assyrians, two for Turkmen, four seats for Erbil, two for Chaldeans, Syrians and Assyrians and two for Turkmen, and three seats for Duhok 1 seat for Chaldeans, Syrians, and Assyrians, 1 seat for Turkmen and 1 seat for Armenians.

Some parties and representatives of the Turkmen, Chaldean, Syrian, Assyrian and Armenian communities gathered in Erbil on November 9 and rejected the proposal of Sulaymaniyah to distribute the seats of the communities in the provinces, they insisted that elections for community seats must be held in a single constituency.

"The proposal submitted by the IHEC to the Federal Court is only to only to shred the quota seats," said Muna Kahveci, a representative of the Turkmen community. He also said that if their demands are not answered, they will resort to “boycott the elections and civil demonstrations".

"Legally, the Kurdistan Parliament cannot currently perform its legal duties, and no authority can amend the Kurdistan Parliamentary Election Law," Elections must be held and then the Kurdistan Parliament can amend the law with a bill," said Kahveci, who was the secretary of the fifth term of the Kurdistan Parliament on behalf of the Turkmen community.