‘This Is Not an Election For the Parliament, But For Turkey’s Future’

By John Hunt:

Supporters at an HDP election rally in Gazientep tonight

Supporters at HDP election rally in Gazientep on Friday

“We will not make you president”. These words, delivered by HDP leader Selahattin Demirtaş in the Turkish parliament, became his party’s maxim in this critical election campaign. Demirtaş wanted to make it crystal clear that the HDP has no intention of doing a deal with president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to assist his plan to create a presidential system of government in exchange for the promise of increased Kurdish rights and autonomy.  Demirtaş’ brief statement has been broadcast from HDP campaign buses across the country, signifying how the HDP has reached beyond its core Kurdish consituency and placed itself at the head of diverse forces wanting a more inclusive and tolerant Turkish society.

The HDP sees the democratisation of Turkey as the bedrock of a peaceful solution to the longstanding ‘Kurdish issue’. It hopes in tomorrow’s poll to cross the 10% electoral threshold, enter the parliament with an increased bloc of MPs and stop Erdoğan in his tracks.

Last night’s deadly bomb blasts at the HDP’s final election rally in Amed (Dyarbakir), the unoffical capital of North Kurdistan (eastern Turkey), underlined how high the stakes are in this contest. The HDP sees the attack, which killed four people and injured hundreds, as the latest and worst in a series of provocations designed to cause a violent Kurdish backlash and frighten away many of its newer supporters, including non-Kurds in western Turkey. However, so far the Kurdish towns and cites have heeded Demirtaş’ call for calm.


Scene from bomb blast at election rally in Amed. Photo – Sean Hawkey

Potential new HDP supporters include those thinking of casting anti-Erdoğan tactical votes because, if the HDP gets less than 10% across Turkey, it will have no parliamentary seats and all its votes will translate into another 50-70 MPs for the ruling AKP, the party founded by president Erdoğan.  There have been tactical voting campaigns, such as ‘10danSonra‘ (‘10% then we’ll see’) which has targeted middle class undecided voters in 11 cities, explaining to them the parliamentary arithmetic and how a HDP presence will not only stymie Erdoğan’s Sultanic ambitions but could also deprive the AKP of its overall majority, ending 14 years of one-party rule.

Several opinion polls have indicated 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 as best they can.

While the popularity of Erdoğan’s AKP is waning, it retains huge reservoirs of support, including among Kurds. This can be seen in the city of Gazientep (also known as Antep), close to the Syrian border, where Erdoğan secured 64% of local votes in last August’s presidential election, even though approximately 50% of the population is Kurdish. The AKP holds eight of the city’s 12 parliamentary seats, with the remainder divided between the secular CHP and Turkish nationalist MHP.

However, the HDP in Gazientep is confident of boosting its vote by several percentage points, up from 10.5% last summer. If the party also crosses the national threshold, there should be at least one and possibly two or three local HDP MPs. Celal Doğan, who heads the HDP candidate list in Gazientep, is a former CHP mayor of the city. An avuncular figure and seasoned campaigner, Doğan told KT in an interview that joining the HDP has enabled him to ’embrace his past’ and re-connect with the ideals of his youth.

The AKP’s strength in Gazientep was built largely on the economy. An industrial city, Gazientep enjoyed an investment bonanza during Turkey’s lengthy boom and historically it has benefited from the cross-border trade with Syria. It seems, for example, that a significant number of the city’s 400,000 Syrian refugees have been able to find some employment, at least in the informal sector.

However, the Turkish boom is over, and the value of the lira has dropped, hitting Gazientep’s exporters. The Syrian civil war is also bad for legitimate business. The HDP blames Erdogan’s foreign policy, telling voters that he has created too many enemies in the region and worsened the Syrian quagmire by supporting jihadists seeking to overthrow Assad, including ISIS.

The Battle of Kobani has damaged Erdoğan’s support among Kurds 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 who used to back the AKP. In Gazientep yesterday, observers reckoned the crowds attending the final rally of AKP prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu were no bigger than the 60,000 who turned out to see Demirtaş last month. In an unprecedented move, the AKP minister of finance, also a local MP, addressed the rally in Kurdish – a clear attempt to undercut the HDP. However, the YPG/YPJ victory at Kobani has strengthed Kurds’ sense of national identity and this inevitably benefits the HDP.

But the party is also appealing to non-Kurds in Turkey, and not only to secular people. On Friday, the Gazientep HDP held a rally for women in the Kurdish district of Gazikent where the main speaker was Hüda Kaya, a Turkish Muslim activist who was prosecuted by the authorities in the 1990s for insisting on her right to wear a headscarf. Kaya is standing for parliament for the HDP in Istanbul.


Huda Kaya, HDP candidate in Istanbul

The Gazikent rally was interpersed with chants from the crowd of ‘Long live Apo’, referring to the jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan who started the Kurdish guerrilla struggle against the Turkish state in 1984. Today, from his Imrali island prison cell,  he is arguing for an acceleration of the peace process that Erdogan appears to have walked away from.

In a stirring speech, Kaya explained how she had come to embrace the Kurdish cause. “I was born and raised in Istanbul”, she said. “For years I was unaware of what was happening in places where the forests and houses were burned and people expelled from their homes. But then I learned that something is wrong with the system”.

She denounced the ruling party as “injured bullies who don’t know where to attack next” and who had spent state money on their election campaign. She said the HDP stood for peace and for “equality for all kinds of identities”.

“This is not an election for the parliament, but an election for Turkey’s future”, declared Kaya. “Either those who want peace will win or those who want war will win”.

John Hunt is a freelance journalist, writer and editor (co-author of ‘Warrior – a True Story of Bravery and Betrayal in the Iraq War’)

2 Responses to ‘This Is Not an Election For the Parliament, But For Turkey’s Future’
  1. Democracy !
    June 9, 2015 | 20:47

    Former US President George Bush recently asserted that democracy was not workable in Iraq. How come 2 Arab Presidents left after completion of their terms. Is that another excuse to continue supporting corrupt dictators in Iraqi Kurdistan for economic interests?

  2. Susan
    June 13, 2015 | 18:11

    Will KRG President be eligible to run again. Kurdistan Constitution does not adopt that. Can Independent Electerol Commission educate citizens. What are the criterias to run for elections. No info on their website.

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