Monday, September 21, 2009

The selection of Barham Salih as Kurdistan PM by parliament and the absence of Macavity the Mystery Cat

 By Shwan Zulal

The anticipated move by the newly elected Kurdish parliament to select it new cabinet led by Barham Salih has finalised and only formalities to be dealt with. Nevertheless throughout the elections and the recent political positioning to form the new Cabinet, the giant of Kurdish politics, Iraqi president and PUK(Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) general secretary Jalal Talabani has been absent from the limelight.

"Macavity, Macavity, there's no on like Macavity,

He's broken every human law, he breaks the law of gravity … ,

And when you reach the scene of crime--Macavity's not there!

You may seek him in the basement, you may look up in the air-- But I tell you once and once again, Macavity's not there!" T. S Elliot.

Political commentators have been writing off Talabani for several years and attributed the misgiving in Kurdish political life and his party's, to people who have been surrounding the Leader. Other western politicians have been compared to T.S Eliot's Mystery Cat, Macavity but none would fit the description as the current PUK Leader Jalal Talabani.

Talabani have been in the centre of Kurdish politics for over five decades and has contributed to the Kurdish struggle immensely but taking a look at the last four years of his long political life, it becomes apparent that his influence has been diminishing but still maintaining the overall control of the party and has been more of a recluse as well as avoiding contentious political issues.

Corruptions and excess by Kurdish politician is nothing new but the man on the top of the hierarchy has taken very little responsibility for the people he is leading and whenever there is trouble he is nowhere to be seen as fittingly T.S Elliot describes Macavity and concludes the verse by-

"Macavity, Macavity, there's no one like Macavity,

There never was a Cat of such deceitfulness and suavity.

He always has an alibit, or one or two to spare: And whatever time the deed took place-MACAVITY WASN'T THERE!, … ".

Many have described the lack of action by the leader as a sign of weakness, and there have been rumours and allegations that the First Lady has been meddling in the running of Talibani's office which has contributed to the demise of PUK. The President's wife, Hiro Ahmad is a lifelong supporter of Talabani and has contributed to Kurdish struggle as well as been largely responsible for PUK Public Relations and promoting women issues in Kurdistan as well as supporting many charitable causes. The accusations are far from the truth and nothing but prejudices against women in a mail dominated society, moreover; the rumours that Hiro has contributed to the demise of PUK seems nothing but pure fabrication.

Talabani has been on the helm of PUK since its creation and have stayed there so far through his grit and determination, nevertheless he has aged and it is clear that he has been struggling with ill health. Being recluse and away from the political squabbling has spared him from criticism for not controlling his party's officials from rampant corruption and failing to accelerate reform in Kurdistan. Whenever there are scandals and political embarrassments, Talabani is not in the picture and all the blame is dished out on the officials around him as it is assumed he can do no wrong, and just like Macavity he is nowhere to be seen.

The recent separation of the Reform wing and establishment of the new political party called Change by former PUK deputy leader Nawshirwan Mustafa have significantly weekend PUK and its ailing leader's position. Last year, Talabani has announced that he will not be running for president's post in the next elections and soon retracted his statement and said "If my colleges insist on me staying as a President and run for the second term, I will consider it". So far the issue of standing down has been put on the back burner and nothing has come of it.

This year's Kurdish Parliamentary elections' public face for PUK was mainly Barham Salih as he is tipped to be the next PUK leader in waiting but with significant opposition within the party itself as he is a new breed of politicians with a different approach from the veteran of the Kurdish struggle.

Salih have the appetite and ambition to take over PUK leadership from Talabani but time will tell whether he has the political capital and the know how to win over party faithful. And one other significant issue would be Talibani's family as it has been reported that his sons have ambition to take over the party leadership after their father. This has proved contentious as the rising star of Kurdish politics Qubad Talabani has competition for leadership within PUK and faces a different contest from Barzani family's ambitious newcomers for Kurdish and Iraqi government posts.

Talabani senior has been pivotal in the Kurdish struggle against Saddam's Regime and has been instrumental in making the Kurdish Regional Government a reality but his time has come to hand over the reigns and let the next generation of politicians take over. This is not a case of age discrimination as some might refer to, but a matter of national interest as it is not good enough to have a leader who has very little authority left and does not recognise the need for change and reform.

For over 30 years of leadership on top of PUK and many decades at the forefront of Kurdish politics, time has come for the Kurds to have new leadership. It is needless to say the Kurds also need a national Hero which could be found in Talabani if he decides to break the mould of Middle-Eastern leadership style and stand down voluntarily. Time is still on the leader's side and more delays in resisting the trappings of power would deprive the nation from a figurehead and an idol it craves. On the contrary he will risk going on the wrong side of history and be remembered for leading a generation of politician accused of corruption, mismanagement of the country and many other shortcomings.

[1] T S Eliot: Macavity: The Mystery Cat from Collected Poems 1909-1962 by TS Eliot

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