17 August 2017 14:49

The internal dilemmas of the independence referendum

Whether the independence referendum is to take place, what the US demand means, how Turkey, İran and Iraq will approach the issue?


Earlier this week, the Supreme Electoral Council of Kurdistan Federal Region have declared their readiness for the independence referendum as well as the presidential and parliamentary elections upcoming at the beginning of November. According to reports received, the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ ballots prepared in 4 languages, have been sent to print. Despite this, the referendum debate has not waned. Rather than the propaganda activity concerning the referendum, the questions currently debated are whether the referendum is to take place, what the US demand means, what the Gorran Movement (Movement for Change) and KomeleyaIslami would do, how Turkey, Iran and Iraq will approach the issue and whether they will intervene.

These debates have both external as well as internal causes.

While the external causes are important, it is nonetheless useful to scrutinise principally the internal causes and their possible risks, since they are of a quality of compounding the external ones.

The internal causes include primarily the lack of progress made against ensuring a satisfactory level of conciliation between political parties, the ousting of a party from the government in the manner of a coup, economic issues and unending controversies about corruption.
For the resolution of issues caused by these controversies, the political parties, particularly Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), have been holding a series of talks.

Last week, Mele Bahtiyar, a PUK executive, had declared that the parliament will be open for business and become fully operational as of 12thor 13th August. Accompanying this was also a statement that talks are to be held between the Gorran Movement and KDP for the resolution of issues. The parliament did not open on the said date. The Gorran Movement and KDP did not make any statement even on the subject of the referendum taking place which will satisfy the elector and strengthen the Kurds’ hands.

While the expectations were for steps to be taken to resolve all these issues, signs that the Gorran Movement and KomelayaIslami, who protested by not participating the meeting which agreed on the referendum date, are likely to vote ‘no’ in the referendum have been emerging. Sadi Ahmed Pire, a high-level PUK executive, in a panel discussion organised in Sulaymaniyah earlier this week described the positions of both organisations as “the Gorran Movement and KomelayaIslami are not against the referendum, they are participating the referendum with a no vote, that is participating the process too.” To be sure, Sadi Ahmed Pire’s words, then, coming from someone who has met both organisations numerous times for the resolution of issues are an important indication as to what the main tendency of each of the organisations is likely to be in the referendum. It is evident that, unless important changes take place or if an issue of the sort of the last-minute postponement of the referendum does not transpire, the Gorran Movement and KomelayaIslami’s position in the referendum is likely to be a vote against. Debates include also the possibility of the boycott of the referendum by these two organisations rather than a ‘no’ vote. There are even reports that a group from within the PUK itself may also boycott.

Put openly, unless measures are taken to resolve the issues and at least a temporary resolution is not ensured in between the parties in the remaining short period of time, the independence referendum will be rendered problematic no matter what the result is. It is possible to say as of now that the result will be ‘yes’ yet especially in ‘the disputed’ regions like Sinjar and Kirkuk, a prospective low ‘yes’ vote will mean the start of serious problems for the Kurds.

Added to the KDP’s ‘self-centric’ attitude, the presence of a tendency within PUK still hostile to the Gorran movement, its desire to exploit the contradictions between the KDP and Gorran Movement brought about with itself the inability to make progress without first resolving the issues, or put more clearly, without first ensuring conciliation on an issue as serious as the independence referendum. No doubt, had the KDP and PUK so wished it, the decision for the referendum would not have been taken by the agreement only of three parties of the parliament, KDP, PUK and Yekgirtuİslami but, as it is duly should have been, with the decision of all 5 parties with a majority in the Parliament and even through the unanimous decision of all parliamentarians. The encumbering of the process by the KDP and PUK, Gorran Movement’s refusal to back down even a little to ensure conciliation did more to add rather than lessen the problems and brought them to where they are now.

It must be accepted that the situation at the current stage reached is one of risk. Considering especially the existence of so many states in the region such as Turkey, Iran and Iraq who are opposed to the referendum as well as western states such as the US continuing to declare their “support for the integrity of Iraq,” ignoring or belittling this risk is not right. The referendum itself is not a declaration of independence, however, all possibilities which weaken Kurds’ hands in the aftermath of the referendum places the desired declaration under difficulty.

There are serious benefits in finding reconciliation in a short period of time, taking into account also the possibilities which will strengthen the hands of Kurds rather than prefer political valour as in the case of KDP and PUK or sacrifice the referendum for one’s own subjective interests as with the Gorran Movement. If the estimates are made well, not only will the significance of undertaking an independence referendum but also that of emerging from it with strong results particularly in the ‘disputed’ regions will be duly discerned.