February 18, 2019
ERBIL, Iraq (Reuters) – Iraqi Kurdish lawmakers on Monday elected an interim speaker of parliament, an assembly key to regional stability, although the Kurds’ second largest party boycotted the vote due to a rift between the main political forces in Iraq’s Kurdistan region.
Vala Fareed, nominated by the region’s dominant Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), was confirmed in the post by 68 votes. She is the first female speaker in Iraq’s Kurdistan region.
However, proceedings were boycotted by the region’s second-biggest party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), amid a breakdown in talks.
“Without a signed political agreement between us, we will neither participate in the parliamentary session nor the government formation process,” PUK spokesman Latif Sheikh Omar said on Monday.
The 111-seat parliament legislates the semi-autonomous region, and its functioning is important to regional stability after several years of political upheaval which culminated in an independence referendum in September 2017.
The Kurdistan region was destabilized by the referendum, which damaged relations with the federal capital Baghdad and weakened the KRG’s budget share. Relations have since improved, despite continued disagreements over oil exports.
The KDP and the PUK have traditionally brokered a power-sharing agreement for the Kurdistan Regional Government.
Monday’s boycott was evidence of a continued rift between the parties, who are at odds over several key positions. Chief among these is the governorship of the disputed Kirkuk province and the Federal Justice Ministry in Baghdad.
The KDP acknowledged that once a binding political agreement is brokered between the two major parties, then the speakership would revert to the PUK and a new vote would be held.
“Whenever there is an agreement between the two parties, we will withdraw our candidate and vote for the PUK candidate, per our agreement,” said Umed Khoshnaw, the head of the KDP bloc in parliament.
Kurdish regional elections were held on Sept. 30.
(Reporting by Raya Jalabi, Editing by William Maclean)