Who won (stole) the Kurdish vote?
A razor’s edge win for the constitutional amendments may not be President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s best. On the night of the referendum he looked frail and his untouchable army of advisers seemed more frightened than ever. As the OSCE report now makes official, the referendum on presidential powers is probably the most contested and tainted electoral process in recent Turkish history. But more of that, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and Erdoğan’s reputation within and outside these borders is questioned now.
Turkey’s electoral process will be seen as a taximeter that someone manipulates all of a sudden when the counting goes sour.
This ballot-stuffing and choice to allow non-stamped ballots will be considered like the single-party days of the 1940s that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) regularly mentions as the “dark days” of the Republican People’s Party (CHP). On top of that, there is the Kurdish vote. Huge discrepancies, irregularities and intimidations have shadowed the voting process in Kurdish areas. We as journalists were aware of what was going to happen there for weeks. Whispers and rumors were all across Ankara and Istanbul that even though “no” vote could reach more than 50 percent, there would be external intervention, especially in rural places in the southeast. The Free Cause Party (Hüda Par) and Hizbullah were given carte blanche by local officials to swing and sway the vote by convincing certain tribes to boycott. Even with that, Erdoğan should be lucky to get that 51 percent.
Yet, most of the pollsters and experts we talked to on CNN Türk on the referendum night stressed another thing. Kurds in the southeast gave Erdoğan a second chance to sit and talk again. “Erdoğan’s final pitch in Kurdish areas last week made an impact,” Faruk Acar, from the andy-ar center for social research, said.
Speaking on pro-government channels two days before the referendum, Erdoğan hinted at the example of how Basque Homeland and Freedom (ETA) abandoned weapons and reported their locations as an example to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). “Look at ETA,” he said, “If they do that, then we can consider sitting down and talking.” These words, which did not made news in the mainstream media, created ripples in the Kurdish areas as a new sign for peace talks. Erdoğan’s advisers’ references for a “federal state” system, or “rights of autonomy” was a clear signal for Kurds to consider. Those remarks caused a 2 percent loss for the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) in nationalist circles but 500,000 votes (regular or irregular) from Kurdish areas would easily make up for that. And they did.
So there are expectations in Diyarbakır, Mardin and Şırnak these days. Even Şırnak that saw the iron hand of the state in the 1990s dared to vote overwhelmingly for “no.” The Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) lost some votes in the Kurdish areas but maintained its strong “no” stand in cities like Adana, Mersin and Istanbul. Just like the pious and conservative voters, Kurds are no longer a monolithic bloc that votes like a flock, and that is a good thing. This is a sign that the Kurdish vote can be mobilized and move to the Republican People’s Party (CHP) if there is better leadership and a better agenda.
Erdoğan’s campaign promise to reinstate the death penalty will be the first big test for Kurds inside the AKP.
Would they say “yes” to the dark days of the 1970s and 1980s? Would the Kurds in the southeast be happy with it? The powers that stopped the taximeter at 51-49 should have a scenario by now. We will only hope to live and see.