Veteran Kurd Barham Salih becomes Iraq’s next president

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Barham Salih won 219 votes in parliament to be confirmed as Iraq's next president. (AFP)
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Adel Abdul Mahdi, a veteran Shiite politician and former vice president, was assigned to form a government. (AFP)
Updated 03 October 2018

Veteran Kurd Barham Salih becomes Iraq’s next president

  • Salih, of the PUK, won 219 votes to defeat a challenge from Fuad Hussein from the rival KDP
  • The post of Iraq's president is allocated to the Kurds

BAGHDAD: The veteran secular Kurdish politician Barham Salih was elected on Tuesday as Iraq’s next president.

Salih, of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), faced a challenge from Fuad Hussein of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). But Hussein withdrew from the second round of voting in parliament on Tuesday.

His first act in the role was to assign Adel Abdul Mahdi, a veteran Shiite politician and former vice president, to form a government.

The selection of the president is the second step in forming a government and is usually the easiest because the two main Kurdish parties decided on a single candidate in advance.

The post of president is allocated to the Kurds under a 2005 agreement with Shiite and Sunni political forces.




Adel Abdul Mahdi, a veteran Shiite politician and former vice president, was assigned to form a government. (AFP)

But the failure of the PUK and the KDP to agree on a candidate turned the process into the latest political crisis to hit Baghdad since May elections.

Salih, 60, a senior PUK member, is considered a moderate. He studied at British universities and holds a PhD in data and statistics. He has occupied many regional and federal positions of government over the last 20 years. 

For the first time since 2003 Tuesday’s parliamentary session witnessed a break from reaching a political consensus to appoint the main positions of government. 

MPs were allowed by the heads of the main alliances to vote freely for whichever candidate they wanted, deputies told Arab News.

The session was attended by 301 MPs for the first time since 2003 and 19 candidates stood for the post of president.

Salih won 219 votes in the decisive second round, while Hussein won 22.

The president is mostly a ceremonial position and does not have executive powers. But many hope Barham will play a key role in improving relations between Baghdad and the Kurdish region and between the Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite blocs in parliament.


Enduring miseries drive exodus of Tunisian youth

Updated 18 October 2019

Enduring miseries drive exodus of Tunisian youth

  • Despite vote for change in the country, there seems to be no end of frustration among young people

SFAX/TUNISIA: It only took 10 minutes for Fakher Hmidi to slip out of his house, past the cafes where unemployed men spend their days, and reach the creek through the mud flats where a small boat would ferry him to the migrant ship heading from Tunisia to Italy.

He left late at night, and the first his parents knew of it was the panicked, crying phone call from an Italian mobile number: “The boat is sinking. We’re in danger. Ask mum to forgive me.”

Hmidi, 18, was one of several people from his Thina district of the eastern city of Sfax among the dozens still unaccounted for in this month’s capsizing off the Italian island of Lampedusa, as ever more Tunisians join the migrant trail to Europe.

His loss, and the continued desire among many young men in Thina to make the same dangerous journey, vividly demonstrate the economic frustration that also drove voters to reject Tunisia’s political elite in recent elections.

In a parliamentary vote on Oct. 6, the day before Hmidi’s boat sank just short of the Italian coast, no party won even a quarter of seats and many independents were elected instead. On Sunday, the political outsider Kais Saied was elected president.

In the Hmidis’ modest home, whose purchase was subsidized by the government and on which the family is struggling to meet the repayment schedule, his parents sit torn with grief.

“Young people here are so frustrated. There are no jobs. They have nothing to do but sit in cafes and drink coffee or buy drugs,” said Fakher’s father, Mokhtar, 55.

Mokhtar lost his job as a driver two years ago and has not been able to find work since. Fakher’s mother, Zakia, sells brik, a fried Tunisian egg snack, to bring in a little extra money. His two elder sisters, Sondes, 29, and Nahed, 24, work in a clothes shop.

Much of the little they had went to Fakher, the family said, because they knew he was tempted by the idea of going to Europe. At night the family would sit on their roof and see the smuggler boats setting off. The seashore was “like a bus station,” they said.

 

Decline

At a cafe near the Hmidis’ home, a few dozen mostly young men sat at tables, drinking strong coffee and smoking cigarettes.

Mongi Krim, 27, said he would take the next boat to Europe if he could find enough money to pay for the trip even though, he said, he has lost friends at sea.

A survey by the Arab Barometer, a research network, said a third of all Tunisians, and more than half of young people, were considering emigrating, up by 50 percent since the 2011 revolution.

The aid agency Mercy Corps said last year that a new surge of migration from Tunisia began in 2017, a time when the economy was dipping.

Krim is unemployed but occasionally finds a day or week of work as a casual laborer. He points at the potholes on the road and says even town infrastructure has declined.

For this and the lack of jobs, he blames the government. He did not vote in either the parliamentary or the presidential election. “Why would I? It is all the same. There is no change,” he said.

Unemployment is higher among young people than anyone else in Tunisia. In the first round of the presidential election on Sept. 15, and in the parliamentary election, in which voter turnout was low, they also abstained by the highest margin.

When an apparently anti-establishment candidate, Kais Saied, went through to the second round of the presidential election on Sunday, young people backed him overwhelmingly.

But their support for a candidate touting a clear break from normal post-revolutionary politics only underscored their frustration at the direction Tunisia took under past leaders.

At the table next to Krim, Haddaj Fethi, 32, showed the inky finger that proved he had voted on Sunday. “I cannot imagine a young man who would not have voted for Saied,” he said.

On the bare patch of mud by the creek where Fakher Hmidi took the boat, some boys were playing. For them, the migration to Europe is — as it was for Hmidi — a constant background possibility in a country that offers them few other paths.

SPEEDREAD

The continued desire among many young men in Thina to make the dangerous journey, vividly demonstrate the economic frustration that also drove voters to reject Tunisia’s political elite in recent elections.

At the time of Tunisia’s 2011 revolution, they had great hope, Mohkhtar Hmidi said. But economically, things got worse. Fakher found little hope in politics, he said.

Despite the apparent surge of young support for Saied as president, he has been careful to make no promises about what Tunisia’s future holds, only to pledge his personal probity and insist that he will rigidly uphold the law.

The economy is in any case not the president’s responsibility, but that of a government formed by parties in the Parliament, whose fractured nature will make coalition building particularly difficult this year.

Any government that does emerge will face the same dilemmas as its predecessors — tackling high unemployment, high inflation, a lower dinar and the competing demands of powerful unions and foreign lenders.

An improvement would come too late for the Hmidi family, still waiting nearly two weeks later for confirmation that their only son has drowned.

“Fakher told me he wanted to go to France. ‘This is my dream,’ he said to me. ‘There is no future here. You can’t find a job. How can I?’,” Mokhtar said, and his wife started to cry.