PUK prepares for third conference.
The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) is currently preparing for its third conference, which is due to be held next month. Ten years ago, the party had its second conference, and the many events that have occurred in the region since then are likely to be among the reasons for the PUK to have another conference. The PUK is one of the two main parties in Iraqi Kurdistan that have dominated politics for decades. Early this month, elections in party offices were held to elect members to the conference. "A number of low-ranking members have been elected while their bosses were not," said Shalaw Ali Askari, noting that the elections were free and fair. In his words, the PUK is not only practicing democracy within the party, but it is leading the path for democracy. He indicated that if not for the PUK, democracy would have been in much worse shape in the region. Askari is a member of a leadership committee that runs the bureau of Rekkhstn. In party politics in Kurdistan, Rekkhstn, which literally means "organization" in English, is one of the two main bureaus that run a party. "During the conference, we will all come down to the same level; we will have no ranks or titles," said Askari. He said the conference is to renew the party, and one step in that direction is to give out posts from the highest down to the lowest to the members by election. "The conference is the highest authority; it has the ultimate power," he said, adding that there will be a vote on the new inner-party program. Since its foundation in 1975, Jalal Talabani, the current President of Iraq, has been the General Secretary of the PUK. This is not unusual given that many other political parties in the region do not change leaders for years. It has almost become the culture of political parties in Kurdistan to keep having one leader. The question here is whether the PUK is going to change that culture by not electing Talabani this time. But for Askari, Talabani is still the best candidate to lead the party. "Why can't a man run a party while he is running a country?" Askari asked, referring to Talabani as a successful President of Iraq. He expressed no doubts about Talabani's ability to lead the PUK again in the years to come. Talabani is also the candidate of the Kurdistan Alliance list for the presidency post of Iraq when the new government is formed. In the view of Askari, the PUK would have been better off if Talabani had devoted his time solely to his party, doing just one job. Perhaps this being away from home by Talabani has contributed to an extent to the internal conflicts within the PUK. It is often known that the PUK is divided from inside. But, this situation was interpreted by Askari as a sign of openness and progression of the party. "Since its foundation, the PUK has had different opinions on various issues. It has been working to be the party of all, to be like a semi-front being able to have people from different backgrounds. We need diversity of opinion so that we do not perish," he said. Such openness and diversity of opinions could not stop PUK deputy leader Nawshirwan Mustafa and many other senior leaders from splitting off last year and forming a movement called Gorran, now the largest opposition group in the Kurdistan Parliament. Askari had a different point of view; he said that throughout the history of Kurdish political movements almost all the separations or splitting off have been due to personal interests, not ideological disagreements, including Gorran, from the PUK. But that point was argued by Sardar Abdullah, a senior leader of Gorran Movement, who said that his movement enjoys large popular support and that it is not a splinter of the PUK. Despite this, Askari called for cooperation by all Kurdish political parties on the issues of national interests, and said they needed one voice in Baghdad. "But we and Gorran are the closest to each other. We were students in the same school; we are ideologically very close," he added. One of the things the conference is expected to bring about is a change to the structure of the party. According to the draft of the party internal program, which the conference will vote on after discussing or possibly amending it, the PUK will have two main assemblies. Just like the structure of a government, the party will have an assembly of legislation and an executive one. "If approved, the legislation assembly will act like the Parliament of the party. Decisions should be made here in this assembly. This assembly will also have a watching role over the executive assembly and other party offices," explained Askari. The conference will also be an important platform to lay out strategy for the party in the years to come, including its foreign policy. Askari did not rule the possibility of ending the strategic agreement with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). But he gave his own opinion that it is in the best interest of both sides to keep the agreement unharmed. The PUK and KDP have entered a strategic agreement to work together for a very long time. Both parties had a united list in the previous elections. In the eyes of many observers, the PUK recently had a number of setbacks and is even in danger of losing its position as the second largest political party in Kurdistan after the KDP. However, this conference, due to be held next month, is seen as a great chance for the PUK to change--in the words of Askari--and get renewed, united, and come out a stronger party. It remains to be seen how the outcome would be and how far the PUK can pass this stage; however, for now many of its supporters look at the conference with hope and inspiration.
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