No Kurdish opening likely after local polls in Turkey

No Kurdish opening likely after local polls in Turkey

It’s no surprise that the components of the People’s Alliance, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), are toughening up their language against the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) on the eve of municipal elections.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan clarified his party’s stance in a statement last weekend as he saw the HDP equivalent to the PKK, a terror organization.

This, in fact, is the continuation of a long-term strategy being implemented by the AKP since the second half of 2015, which marks the end of the Kurdish opening that sought to resolve the problem through political means.

A cease to the negotiations carried out between the AKP and the HDP had paved the way for the ruling AKP to partner with the MHP, particularly after the failed coup attempt in July 2016. That alliance had created the basis of comprehensive constitutional amendments for Erdoğan to realize a shift to the executive-presidential system. Since then and after the June 24, 2018 polls, the duo seems to further consolidate their nationalist-conservative electorate base through a very strong nationalist narrative over Turkey’s fight against terror organizations inside Turkey and Syria.

One of the frequently asked questions by those who follow both internal and external policies of Turkey is whether the AKP government would re-calibrate its policies on key issues, like the Kurdish question and Syria policy, after the local polls as there will be no election until 2023.

The idea behind this question is the fact that Turkey’s strict and strong stance in regards to Kurdish politics almost leaves no room for maneuver across its borders, in Syria and Iraq.

Permission given by the government for one of the relatives of Abdullah Öcalan to visit him in İmralı Prison early January, after nearly two years, has brought about additional questions to this end.

However, all these developments sound different when speaking to senior AKP officials. There are a few reasons why the AKP will not revisit the Kurdish opening, according to them.

First, they recall that despite all the AKP’s support during the negotiations, the HDP never showed its own will and stood against impositions by the PKK. “We were hoping that they would be brave enough for a political breakthrough, but they have never attempted to do so,” the AKP officials stressed.

The second most important reason is the AKP believes that the pressure on the HDP has started to yield results as the party’s votes have been falling in the southeastern Anatolian region, a stronghold of the pro-Kurdish party. Senior AKP officials expect that its votes will continue to decrease in the upcoming local polls.

“We observe that there is a gradual decrease in their votes in the region, while there is a small increase in the metropolises, namely Istanbul. It seems that the HDP’s presence will continue in small ideological and marginal communities in the metropolis for some time,” AKP officials predict. “With the passing of time, we think that the HDP will be a thing of the past.”

According to them, this is in line with the results of the ongoing tough anti-PKK fight on Turkish territories. “At a moment when a fight by our security services to fully eliminate the PKK inside Turkey continues, we, the AKP, should carry out a very strong political struggle against the HDP,” they say.

The third is about the prospect of Erdoğan over the continued partnership with MHP chair Devlet Bahçeli. In a statement last week, Erdoğan made clear that the People’s Alliance is not a temporary mission, but a partnership for eternity.

There is no doubt that the two leaders have created an environment of compromise over a number of different issues, but another reason why Erdoğan needs to endure this partnership is the disruptive potential of Bahçeli, particularly given the fact that he has no absolute majority in parliament.

That’s why there are speculations that the AKP is now seeking new ways to further bypass parliament and empower Erdoğan by widening the scope of presidential decrees.

All these are sufficient signs for predictions that no Kurdish opening is on the horizon in the foreseeable future.

Serkan Demirtaş, Kurdish issue, Turkey elections 2019, local polls