Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan: The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) should become more modern and show that it is willing to make structural changes, say a number of Western experts in the wake of the party’s 13th convention.

They also hint at the possibility of substantial reforms in the KDP with the election of Nechirvan Barzani as deputy leader.

The KDP was formed in 1946 and has held 13 party conventions throughout its 64-year history, the latest one being staged last week in Erbil, the capital of the semiautonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan.

The KDP was formed in the Kurdish region of Iran in 1946, and its first convention was held on August 16th that year in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.

The party must be more modern

Stefan Wolff, professor of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom, believes the KDP should present itself as a more open and modern party after its latest convention.

“With the KDP as the strongest among the Kurdish parties, the key thing will be for the KDP to present an image of a modern, internally democratic and responsible party in Iraq that, apart from representing Kurdish interests, can also be trusted with having a central role to play in politics in Baghdad,” said Wolff.

Barzanis remain close to their tribal roots

After last year’s schism in the KDP’s coalition partner, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), which resulted in the formation of the Gorran (“Change” in English) party, political observers have talked a lot about division within the KDP as well. But Wayne White, an adjunct scholar with the Washington-based Middle East Institute in the United States, believed that was not possible with the KDP.

“The KDP is unlikely to have internal problems as severe as the PUK,” said White. “The KDP under the Barzanis always has remained closer to its tribal, communal and sub-regional roots. [Kurdistan President] Massoud Barzani has shown far more interest in concentrating his energies on internal developments inside Iraqi Kurdistan (and especially the KDP’s own strongholds) than involving himself as broadly in Iraqi national – or even international – politics as has [Iraqi President and PUK leader] Jalal Talabani.”

The KDP should defend the Iraqi constitution

In regard to the results of the recent KDP convention having any bearing on Kurdistan’s standing with Baghdad, Michael Gunter, professor of political science at the Tennessee Technological University in the US and an expert on Kurdish affairs, said the KDP, as a leading Kurdish party, should implement smarter policies in regard to relations between Baghdad and Erbil.

“The KDP must continue to emphasize that the current Iraqi constitution, which guarantees the considerable rights of the regions such as the Kurdistan Regional Government [KRG], must be defended, not altered,” Gunter noted.

Nechirvan Barzani not someone to sit on his laurels

As was expected, former Kurdistan Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, Massoud Barzani’s nephew, was elected as the KDP deputy leader at the recent convention. Brendan O’Leary, political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania in the US and a former prime ministerial advisor to Nechirvan Barzani, told Rudaw via email that Barzani’s return to KDP affairs was a positive step for the party.

“[Nechirvan Barzani] is extremely able, energetic and self-critical, and not someone to sit on his laurels,” said O’Leary. “I would be surprised if he does not become prime minister again, or president in the future. His time as the KRG prime minister provided a good indication of what he would be like as a major party leader.”

O’Leary said Barzani was likely to focus on carrying out profound reforms and, if these were successful, the KDP would likely perform better in future elections.

“The KDP performed well in the last elections for the [Iraqi] federal parliament, and in winning the presidency of the KRG,” he said. “I’m certain the KDP will enhance its prospects of better electoral performance if Nechirvan plays a major steering role in encouraging party renewal.”