BDP to pressure government for more steps in resolution process

BDP to pressure government for more steps in resolution process

ANKARA – Hürriyet Daily News
BDP to pressure government for more steps in resolution process

‘We are not expecting government to take major steps,’ Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş told a group of reporters Dec 3. AA photo

In a bid to break the stalemate in the ongoing resolution process aimed at ending the decades-old Kurdish question, the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) is planning to put fresh pressure on the government to take more steps to facilitate progress on talks. However, figures from the party suggest no substantial improvement should be expected until after the local elections at the end of March 2014.

“[The prime minister] is explaining the peace process everywhere as if he is the owner of it. He wants to take some steps with regard to the [peace] process. We don’t know what they are. But we are not expecting major changes about the process, neither positive nor negative,” Selahattin Demirtaş, co-chairperson of the BDP, told a group of journalists on Nov. 3.

“The elections are important. Everyone will be very busy with elections. But after the elections, we’ll return to the practical steps of the process,” Demirtaş added.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) launched the peace process late 2012 in cooperation with the BDP, placing the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Abdullah Öcalan, as the main interlocutor. There has been a continuous ceasefire between the Turkish military and the PKK ever since, though both sides accuse each other of not taking steps to make the process move forward.

Demirtaş said he believed the PKK would not break the ceasefire until the completion of the local elections in spring, but afterwards all sides have to make fresh assessments for the future of the process. The BDP co-chairperson also underlined that the government could still take steps before the elections, which would clear some landmines in front of the resolution process.

“Steps regarding the election threshold, freedom of expression, arrested lawmakers and long-detention periods should be brought to the agenda right after the elections. The government’s plan is to introduce a rather limited package before the elections. Therefore, we will exert efforts to allow these articles to be inserted in the package, likely to be prepared in January,” he said.

For Demirtaş, the issue of arrested politicians is the most sensitive matter and a positive step on that would help relieve the process. “If this issue is delayed until after the elections, then the government will be obliged to introduce a stronger, more qualified package,” he said.

The BDP co-chair also said a delegation from the BDP would visit İmralı Island, where Öcalan is serving a life sentence, this week. “Improving prison conditions on İmralı would also have positive effect on the process,” he added.

Objective is to double the number of municipalities

Meanwhile, Demirtaş also reflected on his party’s strategy for the upcoming local elections. Although there has been much talk about a potential alliance between the BDP and the Republican People’s Party (CHP), Demirtaş dismissed an “institutional” agreement with the social democrat party, but did not rule out agreements on certain candidates in local constituencies.

The focal point of discussions for an alliance seems to be Istanbul, after the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) lawmaker Sırrı Süreyya Önder announced his intention to run as mayoral candidate for Istanbul. “We will, perhaps, divide the AKP’s votes in Istanbul. Sırrı Süreyya Önder has a high chance of winning if he is the sole candidate. They [the CHP] should support Sırrı; we are sure he would win. We don’t understand why they [the CHP] are pressing for Önder’s withdrawal from the race.”

For Demirtaş, the BDP and the HDP’s objective in the local elections is not only to increase the number of municipalities they have, but also to spread the area of influence of Kurdish political movements.
“Because of the recent law on municipalities, 22 municipalities we had were abolished. The number of our municipalities may be decreased, but our area of influence will be enlarged. Our minimum target is an 80 percent rise in votes, but we are aiming for 100 percent, of course. We currently have 100 municipalities. I am not saying that we’ll have 200, but our area of influence will be doubled,” he said.

BDP co-chairperson Gültan Kışanak is expected to apply for a co-chair mayoralty for Diyarbakır with Fırat Anlı, while the leader of the Democratic Society Congress, Ahmet Türk, is planning to run in Mardin. However, the party is not only focusing on Eastern and Southeastern Anatolia, but also some Western constituencies where Kurds have the chance of winning elections. Underlining that the recently founded HDP will run in elections for the first time and could cause some surprises in Western constituencies, Demirtaş said the overall expectations were to increase their votes and win seats in municipal assemblies in major cities.

“We’ll appoint candidates in all 81 cities; in the East the BDP, in the West the HDP. This is going to be the very first time for us to run in such a comprehensive way in local elections. That’s why we have no plan to have institutional alliances. Cooperation can be discusses over some local candidates,” he said.

No hostility toward the Gülen community

When asked for his assessments with regard to the recent conflict between the government and the Gülen community, which has also had reflections on the peace process and the PKK’s alleged plans to increase its influence over the prep schools, Demirtaş dismissed any hostility toward the community. However, he also expressed his frustration about what he described as a “smear campaign.”

“We do not favor the AKP in this fight. These publications are unfair. We are being depicted as pro-AKP. They say ‘Don’t close the prep schools if you don’t want to let them be grasped by terrorists.’ It’s wrong to continue this fight by putting all of the blame on us,” he stated.

Demirtaş said there was a lot of pressure on Kurdish politicians, believed to be imposed by some Gülen community affiliations, although he was not sure whether the head of this movement, Fethullah Gülen, was personally aware of the situation. “I don’t know to what extent he knows, but his community is being held responsible for numerous cases of unjustness, unlawfulness, conspiracies, corruptions, detentions … And we are offended when these are also endorsed by their media,” he said.

Demirtaş to quit Parliament in 2015

Meanwhile, Demirtaş repeated his wish to resign from the co-leadership of the BDP, stressing that he was about to complete his second term in Parliament. “I want to quit Parliament, but not politics or the struggle. I can contribute in other fields, although my friends are quite insistent on keeping me,” he said.

Following the local elections, the BDP will hold its general convention, where party officials will discuss merging with the HDP, he said, adding that what will happen next in politics is “never certain.”