Turkish elections: HDP's bold move puts party centre stage

[Green Left Weekly, #1054, May 26, 2015]

The June 7 elections to Turkey's Grand National Assembly are clearly the most important in a long time. The bold decision of the People's Democratic Party (HDP) to run as a party and strive to exceed the grossly undemocratic 10% threshold has put the organisation at the political centre stage.

Although its key support base lies in the oppressed Kurdish community, the HDP is reaching out to all the oppressed, exploited and discriminated against across the country — Women, workers, the Alevi religious community, Armenians, Assyrians and LGBTI people.

Support for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has clearly slipped since the 2011 elections. While the AKP will almost certainly gain the biggest seat haul, the rise of the HDP will deny it any chance of the super-majority necessary to unilaterally amend the constitution through parliament.

AKP leader Recip Tayyip Erdogan, the country's supposedly impartial president, wants to establish a dictatorial executive presidency. This ambition appears to be doomed.

Poll shows AKP woes

The Gezici Research firm is one of the most reputable Turkish polling organisations. It most accurately predicted the results of last year's municipal and presidential elections as well as the recent northern Cyprus presidential vote (a setback for Erdogan).

Its April 29 poll illustrates the AKP's woes. If the election has been held then, only 38.1% said they would vote for the AKP, a huge decline from its almost 50% in 2011. The biggest factor appears to be increasing economic hardship.

The poll put the HDP's support at a threshold-breaking 11%.

The Kurdish community makes up about 20% of the electorate. It is neither socially nor politically homogeneous. In 2011 an estimated half of Kurdish voters opted for the AKP and about 35% for the predecessor of the HDP. Disillusionment with Erdogan has seen many Kurds turn away from the AKP, mostly to the HDP. Some 80% of the HDP's recent gains come from the AKP.

The biggest factor here is anger at Erdogan's naked hostility to the Kurdish upsurge in northern Syria and his government's scarcely concealed support for the murderous 'Islamic State' forces during the September-January siege of Kobanê. Also, the supposed peace process with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and its jailed leader Abdullah Öcalan is now seen by many Kurds to have been nothing more than a manoeuvre by Erdogan.

Regime provocations

In April 2013 the PKK declared a unilateral ceasefire and began withdrawing its armed forces to bases in northern Iraq. The bloody decades-long civil war appeared to have ended. The PKK has sought to negotiate a solution to the longstanding 'Kurdish question'.

But Erdogan either never intended to seriously engage in negotiations or has dumped them in his bid to gain untrammelled power. The army has staged a series of provocative operations against guerrilla areas within Turkey designed to provoke the PKK into responding militarily. But so far the PKK has refused to fall into this trap.

Erdogan has repeatedly sought to scare voters by linking the HDP to the PKK and raising the spectre of a resumption of the armed insurgency. The 'peace negotiations', such as they were, have been suspended.

Religion has long been a weapon of the AKP. The shameless Erdogan has now taken to appearing at election rallies waving a Koran.

Bomb attacks

On May 18, simultaneous bomb blasts hit HDP offices in the southern towns of Adana and Mersin. While no one was killed a number of party workers were injured. There have been more than 60 attacks against HDP offices across the country. According to HDP Co-President Figen Yüksekdag:

It is the AKP government that has pressed the button to launch these attacks. All democratic forces should unite to halt these attacks and guarantee election security. Instead of opposing these assaults the prime minister and president have targeted us in their speeches at election rallies. We hold the president and PM as primarily responsible for these attacks . . . They are trying to create tension in order to generate conflict, but our party organisation, candidates and party workers will continue the campaign in a sensible way. We will achieve a great triumph on June 7, which is what they fear.

Will the elections be clean?

In Erdogan's Turkey, dissent is under attack. Critical journalists have been harassed and a number jailed. The judiciary is also in the crosshairs with independent judges and prosecutors being sidelined or replaced.

This raises the question of just how clean the elections will be. The Supreme Election Council (YSK) doesn't inspire any confidence. The president is supposed to be above party politics but Erdogan blatantly campaigns for the AKP. The HDP has repeatedly complained to the YSK about this but has got nowhere.

Its main defence against dirty tricks is for the HDP to exceed the threshold by the biggest possible margin. Every vote will count.

The HDP vote in the big Turkish-Kurdish diaspora will be critical. Anyone with Turkish citizenship can vote. Here in Australia HDP supporters are campaigning to maximise the turnout and ensure it is fair.