ISTANBUL: Turkiye’s pro-Kurdish party should back the main opposition candidate instead of fielding its own against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in May elections, its elder statesman told AFP from jail.
“I am in favor of backing a joint candidate” Selahattin Demirtas, who ran against Erdogan twice, told AFP through a lawyer from his jail in the western city of Edirne.
The Peoples’ Democratic Party or HDP — parliament’s third-largest — faces the threat of being banned ahead of polls in which Erdogan will seek to extend his rule into a third decade.
Erdogan portrays the HDP as the political wing of outlawed Kurdish militants who have been waging a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state.
The party says it is being singled out for standing up for Kurdish rights and resisting Erdogan’s crackdown on civil liberties.
Turkiye’s top court is expected to rule on a prosecutor’s request to shut it down in the coming months.
The party’s legal problems add a new layer of uncertainty to the parliamentary and presidential polls — widely viewed as Turkiye’s most important in generations.
The HDP has been excluded from a six-party opposition alliance now trying to agree on a single candidate to run against Erdogan.
But after securing 12 percent of the vote in 2018 elections, the HDP’s future could prove decisive in what promises to be a tight race.
Demirtas’s second presidential challenge came from behind bars, where he has languished since 2016 on a myriad of charges, some of them terror-related.
The 49-year-old denies them all and the European Court of Human Rights agrees, repeatedly calling for his release.
Demirtas has been convicted on some counts since the last election, making him ineligible to run again.
But the party’s co-chairwoman, Pervin Buldan, suggested this month that the party should still field its own candidate, even without its brightest star.
Demirtas conceded that Buldan might ultimately get her way.
“At this stage, it seems more likely that the HDP will nominate its own candidate,” he said.
But a “compromise with the HDP through negotiations” could still produce a joint candidate representing Turkiye’s entire opposition — including the Kurds, he said.