Ghosts of Gezi and Kobani Haunt Erdoğan

By a KT Correspondent in Istanbul:

President Erdoğan

President Erdoğan

With six days to go until Turkey’s general election on 7 June, the big question isn’t ‘Who will win?’ but ‘How will the HDP do?’ Everyone expects the ruling AKP to remain the largest party in parliament, but no one knows whether the fourth largest party, the pro-Kurdish HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party), will officially get the 10% of votes it needs to have any representation in parliament at all. If the HDP exceeds 10%, it will be the real winner and the victorious AKP will suffer a defeat when a group of around 50 HDP MPs block its plans to strengthen the powers of Turkey’s president, the AKP founder Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. If, however, the HDP fails to cross the threshold, the AKP will secure the parliamentary majority it needs to endorse Erdoğan’s Sultanic ambitions.

No other parliamentary system in the world sets a threshold as high as 10%. Turkey’s former military dictators brought it in to deny any Kurdish party a recognised presence in parliament. Until now, this has worked. Candidates promoting Kurdish rights have always stood as independents rather than on a party ticket. This time, however, the HDP is confident it can surpass 10% through its growing appeal not only to Kurds but also to many Turks and others in the country who are eager for change.

An estmated one million people at a HDP rally in istanbul on Saturday

An estmated one million people at a HDP rally in Istanbul on Saturday

There are two key ingredients working for the HDP. One is the legacy of the ‘Gezi movement’ which swept Turkey in 2013 after the then prime minister Erdoğan sent police to smash up a peaceful protest against his plan to turn Istanbul’s Taksim Gezi Park (the only green space left in the city centre) into a shopping mall. It is estimated that 3.5 million people then joined thousands of demonstrations across the country. The state responded with more violence: 11 people were killed, more than 8,000 were injured and thousands were arrested. Although Erdoğan went on to be elected president in 2014, the Gezi events left a scar on Turkish society. This has engendered a spirit of resistance likely to translate into HDP votes among some non-Kurds who want a less authoritarian government, support the HDP stances on a minimum wage, environmental protection, women’s rights, equality for LGBT people and other minorities, or who are simply keen to see Erdoğan’s claws clipped.

The protests saved Gezi park, at least for now, although yesterday it was full of plain-clothed cops turning away any locals and tourists wanting a Sunday stroll in its verdant shade. Determined to prevent a second anniversary commemoration, the authorities also closed the streets into Taksim Square, disrupted metro services and deployed hundreds of police into the city centre who spent the day checking phones, twiddling batons and caressing tear gas guns.

Police, in an out of uniform, protecting Taksim Square from the public

Police, in and out of uniform, protecting Taksim Square from the public

The spirit of Gezi lives on.

The second big factor boosting HDP chances is the Kurds’ triumph over ISIS at Kobani. The women and men of the YPG/YPJ fought alone and against the odds for months before the US-led coalition delivered effective air strike support. Their epic struggle is a source of pride, a psychic victory for millions of Kurds whose modern history is littered with massacres, betrayals and defeats. Kobani has damaged Erdoğan because it became clear that he wanted ISIS to crush the autonomous administration established by Syrian Kurds on Turkey’s border. There is ample evidence of Turkish state collusion with ISIS and this has alienated many religious-minded Kurds in Turkey who used to back the AKP but are now expected to vote HDP.

Several opinion polls indicate that the HDP will cross the 10% threshold but there are fears that, if this is by a narrow margin, the AKP may still lock them out of parliament by invalidating votes and falsifying counts. In a recent survey, 46% of people – supporters of all parties – said they are expecting voter fraud to happen on 7 June. The HDP and civil society groups plan to monitor the process with eagle eyes and technology – and, no doubt, to look out for suspicious felines: the official explanation for widespread power cuts during the 2014 municipal elections was that a cat had caused a short circuit.

Gezi commemoration event at Beşiktaş park, istanbul

Gezi commemoration event at Beşiktaş Park, Istanbul

KT spoke yesterday to Filiz Kerestecioğlu, a leading HDP parliamentary candidate in Istanbul. Filiz is a Turk, lawyer and feminist and she was attending an alternative Gezi commemoration event at Beşiktaş Park, where one of the speakers was a man who lost an eye during the 2013 protests.

“We are working hard, as though we won’t pass the 10%”, she said. “We don’t know if the votes will be stolen and this isn’t a fair election. There have been 120 violent attacks on HDP offices and most of the media is backing the AKP”.

What will happen, I asked, if the AKP uses fraud to push the HDP below 10%?

“We will put legal objections”, replied Filiz. “We will use civil disobedience to pursue our democratic rights. The government will not be legitimate”.

One Response to Ghosts of Gezi and Kobani Haunt Erdoğan
  1. Jan Best de Vries
    June 1, 2015 | 13:56

    There is still an undertone of obedience to a terrorist Turkish state to hear in this article and a basic belief in the fairness of the Turkish repressive policy under Erdogan against all minorities in Anatolia, yes Anatolia ….

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