Kurdistan is stable for now, which is being ignored by those asking to delay elections

Kurdistan owes it to future generations to go ahead as planned on September 30. It owes it to the people of Kurdistan.

A BOY rides a bicycle with the flag of Kurdistan in Tuz Khurmato, Iraq. (photo credit: REUTERS)
A BOY rides a bicycle with the flag of Kurdistan in Tuz Khurmato, Iraq.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The recount on Iraq’s parliamentary elections appears to be complete. But where are Kurdistan’s elections? Kurdistan has a proud history of going to the polls and a respect for the democratic process that is becoming more and more ingrained with every set of elections. Attempts to delay or cancel the ones scheduled for September 30 could do this respect significant harm and damage Kurdistan’s reputation both regionally and in the wider world.
Iraqi Kurdistan last held parliamentary elections on the September 21, 2013, the fourth such set of elections since 1992. It involved contesting 111 seats, with 11 reserved to ensure the representation of the minority groups who find their home within the region.
New elections are scheduled for September 2018, but there have been calls in some quarters for their postponement.
In recent days, the US government has been reported as asking for such a postponement in private. Even though the US State Department has clarified that the date of the elections is up to Kurdistan’s parliament and High Electoral and Referendum Commission, it has stressed that it wished to see Kurdistan take account of all the circumstances and tensions that currently exist in Iraq in doing so. This seems to be a large hint that it is still hoping that Kurdistan will delay things, perhaps because it fears elections will stoke the tensions and protests currently plaguing the south of Iraq.
The irony of the USA wanting elections to be put off is hard to ignore. But it is important to look past this source of pressure to the others who may wish to benefit from elections being delayed, or even canceled. Several of Kurdistan’s political parties have come down on the side of delaying elections until the situation in the south of Iraq is settled, citing the argument that they might create further disruption.
Yet it is hard to ignore the possibility of self-interest in that move, perhaps wanting the backing of a renewed Baghdad government, or simply worried about what the results of such an election might be so soon after the referendum vote and the events that followed.
The Kurdistan Democratic Party has taken the line that the elections should not be postponed. Heman Hawrami, leading the KDP list, has tweeted that “KDP is firmly withholding Kurdistan parliament elections as scheduled on September 30. NO POSTPONMENT. It is vital for our democracy and a new start for a better work in serving our citizens. No excuses.”
IS IT REASONABLE, in light of this division and of the USA’s concerns, to delay the elections? The principle argument put forward against them happening on time seems to be that delaying them would prevent “disruption” at a time when the remainder of Iraq is experiencing considerable civil unrest. It is certainly true that no one in Kurdistan wants to create instability, or to reduce the safety of its citizens. Kurdistan’s parliament must be all too aware by now that every crisis in the Middle East has an effect on the region, and it will wish to be careful not to trigger a worse situation.
Yet there are clear arguments to set against this desire not to rock the boat. The first is that avoiding elections to prevent disruption to the democratic stability of the region sends entirely the wrong message. It suggests that the democratic process is somehow insufficiently important to be worth continuing with, and that it may be rearranged for reasons of political expediency. To do so sets back democracy in the region, breaking up the steady rhythm of elections and peaceful hand-overs of power that any government should strive for.
To have some of Kurdistan’s political parties trying to delay the vote until they feel they have a better chance of winning it, or at least to hold onto some kind of power for as long as possible, sends a dangerous message. It suggests that democracy in Kurdistan is somehow a sham, where the votes matter less than the “right” balance of parties keeping power.
Then there is the question of whether disruption is actually likely to affect Kurdistan. To some outside observers, the protests in the south may appear to risk spreading northward. But that neglects the extent to which Kurdistan is already fundamentally different from the rest of Iraq. It is not the region suffering from this disruption, and if anything, its ability to hold effective, fair, orderly elections on schedule may serve as a demonstration that it at least is stable.
KURDISTAN IS stable at the moment, and this seems to be largely ignored by those asking it to postpone elections. The government is running as usual, and it is more than capable of running elections without difficulties. To postpone elections while Baghdad achieves some kind of stability risks being more disruptive. After all, the Baghdad government was more than willing to interfere with Kurdistan’s democratic process in the wake of its referendum, and may well be willing to do so again. At the very least, it looks like a gesture of subservience that would be inconsistent with Kurdistan’s outlook almost throughout its existence.
Then there is the question of whether Baghdad will be able to achieve stability at all. The protests, riots and disruption in the south of Iraq show no real signs of abating, and the issues at the core of the problems are unlikely to be solved, since they rest on fundamental social, political, religious and ethnic divisions within Iraq. These divisions have flared into life again and again over the course of many years. So how long would Kurdistan have to wait for them to settle down? A month? A year? A decade?
It is not right that Kurdistan should wait. As former Kurdistan president Masoud Barzani said on Tuesday, he does not regret the independence referendum of last year, and believes that the dream of an independent Kurdistan will come true either soon or in the coming generations. While that is a source of hope for the future, the hope for now is that Kurdistan will progress peacefully and hold the elections that it needs to. It is the best step toward the independence that the people of Kurdistan voted for, and the best hope for a free Kurdistan in the future.
Kurdistan owes it to future generations to go ahead as planned on September 30. It owes it to the people of Kurdistan. And yes, it owes it to a wider region in need of the stability that will come from knowing at least one part of the region can have fair, free elections as scheduled and hand over power peacefully to the next elected representatives in their wake.
The writer is a student of law, an author, a political activist, a member of the British Association of Journalists, and founder of news site The New Mail. His books include The Idea of Kurdistan and Kurdistan: Genocide and Rebirth, which was an international book awards finalist in 2015.