The Kurdistan Region parliament passed a presidency bill on May 8 that will dramatically alter the powerful post, making the president elected by the parliament and creating a second deputy post. The vote is a crucial step in finally forming a new cabinet, more than seven months after the election. Opposition parties did not support the bill, arguing that it gives the president too much power without and oversight from parliament.
The bill, read aloud in the parliament as lawmakers cast their votes, reactivates the office of the presidency. On July 11, the legislature passed a bill to suspend the office of the presidency until the next parliamentary elections were held. The last president, Masoud Barzani, refused to extend his term past November 1, 2017 following a controversial referendum for independence from Iraq on September 25, 2017. The post has been empty since he stepped down. The parliament distributed the president’s powers among the legislative, executive, and judiciary branches of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Unlike the Iraqi president, the Kurdistan Region president’s powers are not simply ceremonial.
According to the bill passed on Wednesday, the president does not have to have a university degree, nor will he or she have to resign from involvement in the work of their political party.
The legislation received heavy opposition, though not enough to derail it being passed.
Kurdistan Islamic Group (Komal) opposed measures that could ultimately weaken parliament’s authority.
“We didn’t vote for the entire bill and we were against all the articles and sections that we think are contrary to the parliamentary system,” head of the Komal bloc Abdulsatar Majid said in a press conference after the session.
“We as the Komal faction wanted the president to be held accountable by parliament by virtue of being elected in the parliament. Now, why would we elect a president who is not held accountable by any institution with all the powers he will have, despite being elected in the parliament,” he asked.
His party also opposed the lack of a requirement that presidential candidates have a degree.
The Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU) didn’t vote for the bill either, saying it doesn’t lead to a parliamentary system in the Region.
“We as the KIU faction didn’t vote for the Regional presidential law and don’t think it is good for the Kurdistan Region because we don’t believe it will create a parliamentary system. That is, the presidency of the Region will not be held accountable by the parliament, which is why we didn’t support it,” Sherko Jawdat, head of the bloc, said in a press conference after the vote.
“The establishment of the presidency of the Region is a national institution that should be for all and should guarantee the unity of the Kurdistan Region,” he said, adding that the president’s powers should be ceremonial only.
Lawmakers of the New Generation walked out of parliament, saying the bill puts a lot of unchecked power into the hands of one person who doesn’t have to hold some higher education degree.
“We see that a president without a certificate [degree] will be elected in this parliament with substantial powers and won’t be held accountable. That’s why we are boycotting this,” Kazim Faruq, head of the New Generation bloc said during the session, before they left.
Within two days of reactivating the presidency, party blocs must present their nominees for the post of president and it will take three more days for political parties to have their say on candidates.
Incumbent Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani is the KDP’s nominee for the post. He along with other possible candidates will be put to a vote in the parliament. The winner will then be sworn in as president in the parliament, who will then task prime minister-elect to form the next cabinet within 30 days.
The parliamentary session comes after the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which secured the most votes in the election but does not have an outright majority, finally reached government formation deals with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Gorran, ending months of on-and-off negotiations.
The president will appoint his or her two deputies, deputy speaker of the parliament Hemin Hawrami said in a press conference on Tuesday. The president will assign them their duties.
“In our deals with the PUK and Gorran, no specific powers or titles are determined for any of the deputies to the president,” Secretary of KDP’s politburo Fazil Mirani told Voice of America (VOA) on Wednesday morning. “The president of the Region himself will assign duties to his two deputies.”
According to KDP deals on government formation, one deputy president will be from Gorran and the other from the PUK, but both of them want to take control of military affairs. This dispute was one of the reasons for the delay in the parliamentary vote on the presidency bill, which was first introduced in March, and forming the cabinet.
It is still unclear which deputy will be vested with military powers.
“The president of the Region will be commander-in-chief of armed forces. That is, neither his deputy nor the Peshmerga minister will be superior to him in these matters because all the military powers will rest with the president,” Mirani said. “That is why the PUK and Gorran thankfully understood this.”
But PUK spokesperson Latif Sheikh Omar said military powers and command over Peshmerga forces will be split between the PUK and KDP until these forces are nationalized. Currently the KDP and PUK each control their own Peshmerga forces.
“We and the KDP have agreed on a principle to retain military decisions until Peshmerga forces become national,” he told VOA on Tuesday. But Gorran officials say military powers will be vested in their deputy in the presidency.
“The KDP stressed it hasn’t promised to give power over armed forces to the PUK deputy. These powers will rest with the Gorran deputy,” the spokesperson for Gorran Shorish Haji told Voice of America on Monday.
Kurdistan Region held parliamentary elections on September 30, 2018, with the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) winning 45 seats in the 111-seat legislature. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) won 21 seats, and the Change Movement (Gorran) 12. No party won an overwhelming majority to form the government alone, hence resulting in a hung parliament. That is why the KDP, which has the biggest bloc in the parliament, had to rally support to form a coalition government with Gorran and the PUK.
The next KRG cabinet seems to be finally in the making as government formation deals have now been finalized among parties wanting to take part in the government.