ANKARA: The debate around the closure of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) — the third biggest party in the parliament — raises the specter of crackdowns on Kurdish voters like those seen during the 1990s.
Devlet Bahceli, the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the alliance partner of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), regularly repeats his calls for banning HDP, claiming the party still has “organic” ties with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) — an accusation that is denied by the HDP.
But sources who spoke to Arab News claim that the government is instead working on alternative plans to erode public support for the Kurdish party and paralyze its political and financial functions.
Several Kurdish parties were banned in the past, paving the way for the launch of new ones with a broader voter base almost every time.
The government currently is working on lifting the parliamentary immunity of all HDP deputies who are subject to summary of proceedings on terror charges. So far, 56 deputies from HDP have 914 summaries of proceedings against them.
When these files are examined in the parliament with the support of the AKP and its ally MHP, the deputies may be arrested due to alleged “terror” links.
Figen Yuksekdag and Selahattin Demirtas, former co-chairs of the HDP, are still behind bars on terror-related charges, while dozens of local officials from the Kurdish party were detained on Monday following the death of 13 Turkish citizens, including policemen, soldiers and intelligence officers, who were held captive by the PKK in northern Iraq.
So far, the government has taken more than 47 of the 65 municipalities won by the HDP in Kurdish-majority provinces in the 2019 local elections by replacing mayors with trustees, on the ground of “terror-related” investigations against the HDP mayors.
In a press briefing on Feb. 17, the Human Rights Association warned that the homes of HDP members who attended peaceful demonstrations have been turned into prisons due to increasing house arrest sentences.
A new survey conducted by the pro-government Optimar company found that 66 percent of respondents were in favor of banning the HDP.
In another move, the election threshold in the country may also be lowered from 10 percent to five percent.
This is also expected to lower public support for the HDP as people who are normally not core voters of the Kurdish party support it during the elections to prevent it from remaining below the threshold.
According to Roj Girasun, director of the Diyarbakir-based Rawest Research Center, discussions about banning HDP in the political scene further increase anti-AKP sentiments among Kurdish voters.
“With the executive presidential system, the weight of the political parties and the parliament almost completely lost their significance. In case of a closure of the HDP, its voters will get further motivation to support the anti-Erdogan camp in any forthcoming elections because of the increased polarization in the country,” he told Arab News.
During the 2023 parliamentary and presidential elections, about 2 million young Kurds are expected to vote for the first time.
“According to our estimates, the HDP is the first choice for these new voters. The loyal voter share of the HDP is around 7-8 percent,” he said.
Now, the key question for Turkey is whether the government’s ally MHP, with its nationalistic vote potential, will exercise enough leverage on the government on the closure of the HDP.
Presidential communications director, Fahrettin Altun, tweeted a video on Sunday wth the message “PKK and HDP are one and the same.”
Galip Dalay, a doctoral researcher from Oxford University, thinks that debates about the HDP’s closure should be evolved around another discussion about the differentiation between what is good for Turkey and what is good for the ruling government.
Following the tragic death of Turkish officers in northern Iraq, the closure of the HDP became much more likely ...
Galip Dalay, Researcher
“Following the tragic death of Turkish officers in northern Iraq, the closure of the HDP became much more likely. I expect the government to opt for hard politics in order to overcome the failure of this rescue operation of the 13 hostages,” he told Arab News.
Experts underline that any move to ban the HDP will show that the government prioritizes its electoral advantages over the potential reactions of the international community, especially with the administration of US President Joe Biden focusing on weaknesses of democracy in its allies.
However, for Dalay, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is now undecided about which option will bring him more public support in the upcoming elections.
“He is not categorically against banning the HDP. However, he may opt for bringing tougher conditions to benefit from a Treasury grant, which could lead to preventing the HDP from getting any financial assistance from the Treasury,” he said.
“With the latest wave of arrests, the government already paralyzed the HDP in a political sense by arresting top and medium-level officials of the party,” Dalay said.