Political leaders stepping down graciously (and not)

by Kathy Thiessen 

On Monday my country, Canada, had an election. Most of the people I know, with some exceptions, welcomed this event. We were very tired of a leader who had created a Canada that we did not recognize anymore, one that removed protection from our rivers and lakes, who ignored the indigenous peoples, made the process of immigrating to this country more onerous and oppressive etc etc. We were hopeful that a new prime minister and cabinet would be better even if they were not perfect.

In Canada, a prime minister can run and be re-elected as many times as the people say yes. Steven Harper could have continued to be the leader until he died if the voters had chosen him to continue. However, the voters had had enough and turned out in numbers that had not been seen in 22 years. We heard of some polling stations that ran out of ballots because so many people came to express their dissatisfaction and desire for change.

Yesterday, two days after the election.  I was reading articles coming from Iraqi Kurdistan where I spend the other half of my life working with Christian Peacemaker Teams. In this region Massoud Barzani is the president.  Iraqi Kurdistan has the rule that a president can only stay in power for two terms or eight years.  He was first elected as president in 2005. He was re-elected in 2009 with nearly 70% of the vote. Then in August 2013 the Kurdish parliament extended the term for another two years, bringing the end date to August 2015.

At this point the opposition spoke loudly and clearly. It was time for Barzani to be gone. It was  time for change. The law also speaks to that in an succinct way. " The term of the president that expires on August 20, 2013 will be extended until August 19, 2015 and cannot be extended for a second time." However, the KDP, Barzani's party is using the war with ISIS and difficulties in holding an election as reasons for keeping him in the office. with the full powers of the presidency.

The people are speaking. They have taken to the streets across the region,  protesting  and saying that Barzani must go. They also are asking for salaries that have not been paid in over three months.  However, the government has responded only with security forces and guns, killing 5 young men and injuring dozens of others. Then, on top of this they have beaten and restrained  journalists, trying to keep the news from reaching outside of the  region. And, they locked the opposition MPs  out from entering parliament, not even allowing them to enter the capital city, Hawler/Erbil.

"Peaceful Demonstration is our Only Way to awake you. Do you hear or see?" (October 20, Sulaimani)

The government workers (teachers, medical workers etc) have been demonstrating since 3 October. They have not received salaries in 3 months. They have received their salaries very sporadically for two years.

As I grieve for the chaos that politicians have brought once again to the region and the Kurdish people that I love, I wonder what would have  happened here if Harper had refused to step down. What would my country do? What plans are in place to send an old prime minister on their way if they are standing their ground?  And  I am again made aware of my privilege to live in Canada where Harper publicly  said that it is time to leave and stepped down  to allow the new prime minister to take the leadership.

Gilbert Agabo , a permanent resident of Canada, originally from Rwanda,  reminded me and all readers of Metro Daily Newspaper of this yesterday  in his opinion article. Read the whole article here.

"...what I was longing for was to participate in a democratic process that is peaceful, in every sense of the word.

As I mingled in a crowd of Liberal ....supporters, my mind couldn't stop rambling about what elections mean in other parts of the world.  Take Kenya, 2007. Following the highly contested residential elections, a dispute over the results erupted. People started attacking each other, and thousands lost their lives in the mayhem....

All along I was not expecting NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair to come out and start accusing incoming prime minister Justin Trudeau of stealing their votes.  I knew Stephen Harper wasn't going to call in military forces in an attempt to cling to power.

But watching them deliver concession speeches, all smiles, almost brought me to tears..... It's still unreal for me to hear an incumbent leader admit that the people are never wrong, notwithstanding that they just turfed him out......

And I felt sad that, as  permanent resident, I couldn't cast a ballot that was peaceful-- in every sense of the word."

Right now, in Iraqi Kurdistan, my team mates are watching what is happening. They are standing with the people on the streets and telling the social media world what is happening.

Please consider joining CPT Iraqi Kurdistan in our work. One way you can do this is to provide resources for us to continue our work. Click here to donate to CPT on behalf of Iraqi Kurdistan team

**[ Note for Canadians. Unfortunately, because CPT's work is too political for the Canadian government we are not able to provide a tax receipt. Maybe this will change with the new government. We can only pray and hope.]

My team created this video telling about the current situation in Iraqi Kurdistan.

A short film by Christian Peacemaker Teams (Iraqi Kurdistan) about the protests for economic, political and legal change in Iraqi Kurdistan. October 2015.