Was the Kurdish referendum in Iraq a mistake?

We ask Bayan Rahman whether a Kurdish country is possible and debate the end of term limits for China’s President Xi.

In this week’s UpFront, we ask the Kurdistan Regional Government representative to the United States Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman about the aftermath of the Kurdish referendum and whether her government is any closer to independence.

And in the Arena, Sharon Hom, executive director of the NGO Human Rights in China, and Qinduo Xu, senior fellow at the Pangoal Institution think-tank, debate the end of term limits for Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Headliner: Has the Kurdish independence movement failed?

Six months after the Kurdish region of Northern Iraq voted for independence in a controversial referendum, the region is no closer to establishing its own country. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) initiated the referendum, in which more than 90 percent voted “yes” to secession. Without any signs of change, some in the regional government are blaming the situation on Baghdad and foreign governments.

“The people of Kurdistan are being punished,” says Rahman.

The KRG did not expect the “unsophisticated” reaction to the referendum by the US and Europe, says Rahman. “With every statement they made against the referendum,” she explains, “they were emboldening our neighbours and Baghdad to think the Kurds were alone and that they could punish us.”

According to Rahman, Baghdad continues to cut off the region’s budget and has left them to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) and accommodate 1.8 million displaced people and Syrian refugees.

While she says there’s been some improvement in the relationship with Baghdad in recent weeks, Rahman also argues that the budget issue and Iraq‘s failure to establish a federal and pluralistic democracy is what led to the KRG’s pursuit for independence.

There are currently hundreds of cases of alleged corruption within the KRG, according to its Commission of Integrity. When asked whether corruption and nepotism, particularly among family members of the Kurdistan Democratic Party President Masoud Barzani, are to blame for the lack of progress in the independence movement, Rahman says “people know who they’re voting for”. She says “many people are proud of their record. Many people look up to them for leadership.”

Arena: China: Is President Xi Jinping the new Mao?

With last month’s vote to end limits on presidential terms in China, Xi gained the right to remain in office indefinitely. The measure was passed by China’s government, but critics say it follows a pattern of Xi tightening his grip on power.

“China has gone backwards at least 40 years,” says Hom. She says the government has failed to learn the lesson from the Cultural Revolution that power concentrated in a single leader will “inevitably lead to mass suffering and abuses”.

Xu disagrees. “China’s system is very different from the Western style,” says Xu. He says the removal of presidential term limits is not a return to China’s past, but rather a continuation of the progress and responsiveness of the Chinese political model.

When asked if Xi has moved towards one-man rule, Xu says both Xi’s unanimous re-election by the National People’s Congress and international polls show that he has a high level of support in the country.

Hom says China’s economy is slowing and inequality is growing, and she questions whether those directly affected by policy choices can express their discontent within China. “It is a hostile, restrictive environment for any voice that is critical of Xi Jinping or of the party,” she says.

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