AKP in search of a new approach toward Kurds

AKP in search of a new approach toward Kurds

Those who will run referendum campaign rallies are not on the road yet. However, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has held rallies for the “yes” vote in five cities already, right after his return from his trip to the Gulf region. He got ahead of the “No” camp, before they hit the road.

I spoke to Deputy Prime Minister Veysi Kaynak, who accompanied President Erdoğan on his rallies in the provinces of Kahramanmaraş, Elazığ, Malatya, Gaziantep and Adıyaman. “It was really nice. The cities were in competition to fill the places,” he said. Deputy Parliament Speaker Ahmet Aydın was with the president as well. “There was tremendous enthusiasm; the streets were full of people. There were huge crowds as well as a feeling of jubilation,” Aydın said. 

Aydın believes July 15, 2016 was a turning point. “People see their future in President Erdoğan, they see their own fate and the future of the country,” according to Aydın.

The president’s morale had increased when he saw the crowds and the interest. Kaynak also confirmed the president came back to Ankara with very high morale.

Some may say these five cities are ruling Justice and Development Party’s strongholds. The president is going to the Aegean region next week. We will take a look at there as well.
Focus on undecided and confused AKP supporters

As rallies started spreading to Anatolia, some voices that have remained distant to the “yes” have been revealed. On the one hand, there is an effort to convince the undecided, who will determine the outcome of the referendum, and on the other hand, there is a focus on those who are “confused” among the AKP constituency. They seem to be opinion makers, intellectuals close to the AKP, conservative Kurds and the former members of the “national view,” a movement that laid out the foundational ideological backbone of religious parties in Turkey.  

The rallies served to test the issue of providing 18-year-olds the right to be elected to parliament, which could be made possible by the constitutional changes that are set to be voted on April 16. As the president has mentioned the issue and saw the high interest in the rallies, he kept saying, “Hopefully we want to see ministers in the cabinet aged between 18 and 25.”
Special approach toward Kurds

There are debates within the AKP on whether to hold joint rallies with the National Movement Party (MHP), which have provided support for the constitutional changes. But it’s an issue that cuts both ways. The AKP has an important size of Kurdish constituency. There are two parties that receive votes from Kurds, one is the AKP and the other is the People’s Democracy Party (HDP). 

In order to have a meaningful outcome of the “yes” votes in the referendum, the votes of the Kurds are significantly vital. Polling companies are analyzing the Kurds, while strategy groups are trying to determine policies aimed at getting the Kurds on board. There is work on a new approach and rhetoric toward the Kurds.
 The local people in the region do share their resoluteness in the fight against terror. They want this endeavor to prolong; they do not want the fight to be left half way.

The support toward the state in the region appears to have increased, but this has not yet translated into supporting the AKP.

A marginal segment within the HDP is stuck on the motto “We will not make you president.”

When you add to this, the arrests of HDP lawmakers, they form the largest bloc of the “no” vote. The AKP is searching for a new strategy toward conservative Kurds.
The language of the campaign

 We are still at the start of the campaign. President Erdoğan reviews campaign strategies all the time. “We look at those who say ‘no;’ the HDP, the PKK [outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party], FETÖ [Fethullahist Terrorist Organization],” he had said. Equating those saying “no” with terror organizations had sparked debates. The president softened on this rhetoric. Instead of placing naysayers in the same place with terror organizations, he asked for their votes. “Not just the AKP and the MHP, but let’s have my brothers from the CHP and HDP say ‘yes’ too,” he said in a speech in the southeastern province of Adıyaman. 

The campaign discourse is changing. Instead of a negative rhetoric that otherizes those who say “no,” a more encompassing discourse is being preferred. This is the impression we get from President Erdoğan.