The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), led by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, is going through a rough time due to its loss in the Kurdish parliamentary elections. This is also due to the continued absence of its leader, who is in a Berlin hospital. His health status is unknown.
The parliamentary elections of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, which enjoys almost complete autonomy from the central government in Baghdad, were held Sept. 21, 2013. The PUK came in third, winning 18 of 111 seats. Its main rival, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) led by Massoud Barzani, ranked first with 38 seats.
However the really painful blow dealt to Talabani’s party was the remarkable success of the Movement for Change, which won 24 seats. It is led by Nawshirwan Mustafa, a former PUK leader who split from the party four years ago.
As a result of the stressful moments that the PUK is going through, a broad political debate has started within its ranks on bringing about change in the party. Sharp differences have emerged between leading political figures in the party.
Adel Murad, the secretary of the PUK’s central council, told Al-Monitor, “The preoccupation of some PUK officials with business deals and in maintaining their personal interests — at the expense of the higher interests of the party — was behind the loss in the parliamentary elections in the region.
“The PUK’s approval of extending the mandate of the presidency of the region for an additional two years was one of the reasons behind the PUK’s loss of a number of parliamentary seats,” Murad said.
He added, “The incompetence of party officials in the management of ministries and departments in the region’s government led to a drop in popularity.”
Murad went far in his attack of his party members, calling on them to “step down, especially members of the politburo, to make room for younger people.”
Murad's statements explain, to some extent, the general trend for the future of the party. This future could witness the entrance of new leaders, as well as the abandonment of some party veterans.
But on the other hand, there are great concerns that the loss in elections could lead to new splits in the PUK, and it is possible that the latter could join the Change (Gorran) Bloc.
His statements followed a series of PUK events indicating the party’s intention to take new measures to avoid another such political defeat.
A PUK “mini-conference” put forth a working paper “containing a detailed explanation of the reasons that led to the loss, to be adopted at the general conference of the party scheduled for the end of January 2014.”
The PUK held a meeting on Oct. 7 to study the reasons that led to these election results, but the party did not announce any new measures on what it will do next.
Murad also called for the “abolition of the strategic agreement with the KDP, in conformity with the requirements of the current juncture.”
The two Kurdish parties had signed an agreement to divide top positions in the Kurdistan region in July 2007, and the agreement is still in force.
There are two essential factors linking the PUK and the KDP. First, Barzani wants to maintain his alliance with Talabani's party, because he doesn't want to make space for the Movement for Change to expand more in the Kurdish political scene. He may also ally with Islamist forces to achieve the power needed to neutralize Nawshirwan Mustafa's movement.
With regards to the second factor, Barzani's party feels that the PUK is at its weakest, affording him the opportunity to impose more political conditions on the Union in the formation of the anticipated regional government.
Murad’s words indicate that there are substantial differences within his own party, and the disappointing results have seemingly revealed the conflicts between union leaders.
The PUK is in the process of making changes at the leadership level, but this will only happen once the disagreements between its prominent figures are settled.
The PUK has four conflicting currents. The first is represented by the prominent politician Barham Salih, the second by Kosrat Rasul (vice president of the PUK), the third by Hero Khan Ahmed (Talabani’s wife), and the fourth by senior PUK leader Mullah Bakhtiar.
The four currents are competing to define the PUK’s trajectory, but what impedes progress on the matter is the fear of making a major move while the president is still in the hospital.
Salih seemingly represents the modern current of the PUK, and this was made obvious by his comments on the results of the September 2013 elections, when he said, “The PUK’s loss is bitter, but shaking off the decision of the Kurds in the elections would be shameful.”
This comment raised the ire of PUK leaders, especially the president’s wife, and it seemed that a political rupture had taken place between them.
On Sept. 30, 2013, Hero Khan Ahmed resigned from the PUK’s number one leadership position in Sulaimaniyah against the backdrop of the election results.