April 30, 2009


Evolving democracy in Kurdistan (Bashdar Ismaeel, 30 April 2009, Online Opinion)

Although a grainier form of democracy was still practiced with relative civil liberties and municipal elections in opposing administrations, it was hardly in commendable shape prior to 2003. The fall of Saddam Hussein and the second Gulf War not only brought unprecedented elections to Iraq, but also kick started democracy in Kurdistan.

With the removal of Saddam Hussein and with prospects of a new Iraq, Kurdish leaders were at a unique juncture. Under full international view there was a growing threat from the Turkish government over Kurdish ambitions at the dawn of their new era, Kurds could ill-afford not to present a united front. A united front was encouraged by the US, with strong ties and a reliance on Iraqi Kurds, as their Iraqi adventure was soon derailed.

Elections to the KNA were held on January 30, 2005, to coincide with the Iraqi elections and elections to the provincial elections. The turnout was high with more than 1.7 million people voting. There were 111 seats contested in the elections via a system of proportional representation. This time the PDK and PUK united under one list, the Democratic Patriotic Alliance of Kurdistan, attaining 104 seats or just more than 89 per cent of the votes.

The alliance, at least on paper, forged a strong unity across a number of parties, including the Kurdistan Islamic Union, Turkmen Party and other minority parties.

Although the democratic system in Kurdistan is far from perfect, achievements in less than two decades and particularly in the last six years have been historic. No democracy has ever flourished without its pains and conflicts, and Kurdistan is no different.

In the time since its inception, the parliament has passed a number of important laws, covering press, economy, administration, general society and culture. The improvements in freedoms and laws since 2003 have been noticeable, for example with increasing rights for woman and increased government tolerance to opposition.

Elections for the KNA are to be held every four years as stipulated in article 8 of the Kurdistan Electoral Law. Elections for the KNA are based on a closed party-list representation system, meaning that the electorate votes for the list of candidates of a party rather than individual candidates. Seats are allocated to each party in proportion to the number of votes it receives, and the party is then free to choose someone from its candidate list.

Among the main highlights of the Kurdish democratic experience is that the system of government is secular, freedom and practice of faith are high and there is a strong encouragement for wide representation across ethnicities in the region. As an example, there is a liberal attitude to alcohol consumption, wearing of head-scarves and public expressions of love.

The current system ensures that if no party representing a minority wins a seat, one seat is automatically awarded to that minority (for example, Assyrians, Chaldeans or Turkmen). There is currently one independent and 14 political parties represented in the KNA.

Another fundamental benefit in the current system is the strong representation for women with the legal requirement that at least 25 per cent of parliamentarians must be women.

The passing of several laws has heavily contributed to the regions relative economic progress and social progression in recent years. Politicians have been generally quick to adapt laws to accommodate the present socioeconomic environment and modernise the legislative aspects of the region in line with modern-day demands: for example there is now a European standard investment law; there has been the outlawing of polygamous marriages; and there is increasing intolerance of honour killings.

Although, the KRG has evolved a great deal of the past few years, high expectations of the people, means that the government will need to continuously adapt to meet the growing pressure from the public.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 30, 2009 7:02 AM
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