The Kurdistan Region of Iraq presently has a parliament with not one, but two speakers. In some situations, this might be acceptable, for instance if they would share the presidency of the parliament, but in the reality of Kurdistan it shows that democracy has reached a stalemate.
Since October 12, 2015, the chosen chairman, Yusuf Mohammed, is no longer welcome in the capital of the region, Erbil, where the parliament is based. He is member of the second largest political party in the Kurdistan Region, Gorran or the Change-party.
His banning is the result of a political fight over the extension of the term of Kurdistan’s president Massoud Barzani, who ended his final official term in August without an agreement between the parties about his future. Constitutionally, the speaker of the Parliament then temporarily should have taken over, until a new president was elected.
Instead, Barzani stayed on, creating a conflict with his supposed temporary successor plus his party, which turned violent when protests – also about the lack of salaries for civil servants - got out of hand.
All Goran MP’s were then evicted from Erbil, or were stopped entering, as were its ministers, who were part of a unity government lead by Barzani’s nephew Nechirwan Barzani. Three months later, they still have not returned to their posts, and their colleagues from other parties are still taking care of their ministries next to their own.
The speaker since has tried to do his job from his office in Sulaimani. He signed his last official document six days after he was prevented from returning to Erbil, on October 18, which was accepted by the parliament. And even though he still receives guests and delegations in his Sulaimani office, his documents have no longer been accepted into the parliamentary system.
His deputy, the senior KDP-member Jaafar Emniki, is now taking care of business in Erbil. Both the speaker and his deputy run their own websites, releasing different versions of the news.
When the internet site Niqash talked to MP’s of KDP, it was told that the parliament is functioning, apart from the ‘former’ speaker, who ‘had to leave his job as he could not act in an independent way’. The only unusual thing is at the parliament is not holding sessions, they claimed.
Yet the remaining MP’s may be going to parliament regularly, but they too cannot do their job, as the 23 parliament committees cannot hold their weekly meetings for lack of members and a quorum.
A parliament that is not discussing issues and voting on documents and laws, whose committees are not doing their work either, is a parliament that is not functioning. That means that the democratic system that it is part of, is not functioning either, because the parliament is chosen by the people to make sure the government is really working on their behalf.
The last time the Kurdish parliament suspended its work was during the civil war of the nineties. The present situation could bring us back to the time when two separate administrations and their parliaments were functioning in the Kurdistan Region, one in Erbil and one in Sulaimani.
Then, the conflict was between the two main parties, KDP and PUK, who both had their own territories. While now Gorran has taken over the former role of PUK, again a virtual wall has risen between Erbil and Sulaimani.
Not only is the parliament not functioning that melted the different territories into one Kurdish entity, these are once again following their own policy. Checkpoints, that were mixed before, are again one-party operations, and those who travel with permits or papers from the one area may have problems traveling in the other.
At the same time, the president has called to prepare a referendum about Kurdish independence from Baghdad. Which makes you wonder: does he intend this as a method to bring together again all Iraqi Kurds, or will the independence only cover the areas where his party is ruling?
The conflict between the parties is a major setback at a time the Kurds have plenty of enemies outside that should force them to unite. Instead, the young democracy has reached a stalemate. The longer this situation persists, the more difficult it will be to get it back on track, with politicians shouting at each other instead of talking to solve the problems, and civilians distrustful of their intentions and the reasons behind them.
The Kurds of Iraq were giving an example to their brothers in other Kurdish regions. They owe it not only to themselves, but also to others who may look at them for guidance, to end the strife – and as a first step get the parliament back in function again. That is the first demand for a government to be able to call itself democratic.