Turkish politics split over pro-Kurdish party

Turkish politics split over pro-Kurdish party
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a news conference following a cabinet meeting in Ankara, Turkey, June 9, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 11 June 2020

Turkish politics split over pro-Kurdish party

Turkish politics split over pro-Kurdish party
  • HDP is planning to begin a two-track democracy march to Ankara after two of its MPs were stripped of their seats

ANKARA: The possibility of disbanding Turkey’s only pro-Kurdish party has been raised amid tensions between the government and opposition parties in the Turkish parliament.

The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) is planning to begin a two-track democracy march to Ankara, from the western province of Edirne and the southeastern province of Hakkari, in opposition to two of its parliamentarians being stripped of their seats over terror allegations.

One of the parliamentarians, Leyla Guven, was released from prison in an overnight decision on June 9.

The potential disbandment of the HDP is also being discussed in opposition circles.

Erdogan Toprak, deputy leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), Turkey’s main opposition, said on Tuesday that the government may be planning to take steps against social peace with the appointment of a new chief public prosecutor of the Court of Cassation by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“As the timings of the appointment, depriving deputies of their parliamentary statuses and the calls to close the HDP were simultaneous, it makes one consider that the government is making dark plans against the opposition and social peace,” Toprak said.

Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute, said that Erdogan knows his party’s popularity is nose-diving, and with no election scheduled until 2023, a snap election next year is increasingly likely.

“Erdogan wants to make preparations for running elections where his popularity would recover. Therefore, he is making plans to change the electoral system and he is doing everything he can to divide the opposition,” he told Arab News.

According to Cagaptay, Erdogan’s biggest political mistake in terms of domestic politics was to switch to an executive presidential system that made him powerful and unified the opposition. He added that prior to this, the gap between opposition groups was often wider than the gap between them and Erdogan.

“But because the presidential system requires a two-way race, the opposition parties united, not because they liked each other, but because they realized that they would perish if they don’t. They tried to file a joint candidate in the presidential elections and local elections. President Erdogan knows that he should change the electoral system because it is hard for his party to get 50 percent of the votes,” he said.

Cagaptay believes Erdogan may take steps to lower the threshold to win elections and to prevent informal electoral blocs from opposition parties forming, but this step would require a constitutional change that will be realized by qualified majority.

Edgar Sar, political scientist and co-founder of the IstanPol Institute, said the government is trying to marginalize the HDP, making it harder for opposition parties to unite in elections.

“I have my doubts about whether shutting down the HDP would serve that end, because such a harsh reaction could encourage the opposition parties to come together by encouraging HDP voters to support them. Rather than banning the party, which I believe would create uncertainty, the government will prefer to benefit from the existence of a further criminalized HDP and make sure that it will remain a liability for the opposition bloc,” he told Arab News.

The CHP is not joining the democracy march of the HDP over concern that it may lead to “social tensions.”

Sar said that criminalizing the HDP, driving a wedge between the parties within the opposition bloc, would be both safer and more practical in the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile, the Deva party and the Gelecek party, two breakaway parties from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), are extending an olive branch to Kurdish constituencies, recently starting Kurdish-language Twitter feeds.

Sar said: “Deva’s leader Ali Babacan represents an era when the AKP was either the first or the second political choice of all Turkish electorates, including the Kurdish-dominated southeast. Moreover, both parties claim the people in the region are fed up with the lack of political options and being stuck between the AKP and the HDP, and thus claim themselves to be a real alternative for the Kurds.”

He added that Babacan is more likely to be able to play that role than Gelecek’s leader Ahmet Davutoglu, given his role during armed clashes between Turkish security forces and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that followed the June 7 elections in 2015.

“Since then, the fight has been going on and many Kurds see Davutoglu as someone who is responsible for that. However, with the HDP being further criminalized by the government and facing the threat of disbandment, I don’t see a considerable number of HDP voters switching allegiances,” he said.

The HDP is often accused of being tied to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), while many of its local representatives, elected mayors and politicians were recently stripped of their statuses and imprisoned, including the former co-chair of the party.

Several pro-Kurdish parties in Turkey have been disbanded over the past 28 years, while some could not reach parliament because of the required 10 percent vote threshold.

The Kurds are the largest ethnic minority in Turkey, and are believed to make up one-fifth of the population.