What will happen to the Kurdish process?
There is so much happening in Turkey all the time that sometimes you have to hear it from an outsider to realize certain facts.
“Turkey has had the overwhelming burden of a civil war with the PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party] for three decades. For 12 months now, we have had a democracy initiative and a cease-fire, which is holding. Twelve months of this sort of durability for the initiative has the chance of creating a new normal in Turkey. That is the most positive thing that has happened in the last three decades,” James Holmes, a former U.S. envoy to Ankara, told me.
With all the political turbulence going on, we tend to forget that the Kurdish problem was one of the biggest headaches of Turkey.
Had Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan not slid into authoritarianism, had he not given the impression that he was trying to cover up corruption charges, he could have become, in the eyes of the world, the Turkish leader who solved the Kurdish issue.
When the prime minister initiated the reconciliation process, many thought he did it to get the backing of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) in Parliament in order to turn Turkey into a presidential system, or to get the support of Kurdish voters who would enable him to be elected president.
Whether these speculations are true or not, I wonder what he thinks of it, now that he himself has turned the March 30 local elections into a plebiscite.
Independent of what he thinks, it is a fact the March 30 elections are no longer about local administration. In this sense, it is going to be challenging to make a healthy analysis of the election results the day after, regarding the Kurdish issue.
I tend to agree with political scientist Bekir Ağırdır that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) will be after the totality of votes, rather than the number of municipalities won. The AKP is expected to lose some of its voters to the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), especially in the conservative parts of Central Anatolia. But if the MHP increases its votes, does it mean the swing is due to the disapproval of the Kurdish process or disapproval of the AKP in general, especially after the corruption scandals?
During the 2007 general election campaign, MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli tossed a noose into the crowd as he accused the government of failing to hang the PKK’s imprisoned leader, Abdullah Öcalan. But that did not win him votes. Therefore, it is difficult to assess the wider public’s rate of approval of the Kurdish reconciliation process.
Meanwhile, the AKP’s opponents are angry with the BDP’s lack of a strong reaction, not only about corruption claims, but also about the legislation introduced by the AKP that many see as undemocratic.
Many perceive the BDP as the AKP’s indirect ally. However, there will be a fierce competition between the AKP and the BDP to lure Kurdish votes. The BDP wants to prove itself one more time as the main interlocutor for the solution. The parliamentary group leader of the BDP, Pervin Buldan, recently said the votes received and the number of municipalities won by the BDP would show support for the process.
“Each municipality we win will strengthen the hand of Mr. Öcalan. He will say ‘this many people are behind me’ during the negotiations,” she recently told daily Hürriyet.
Yet, the AKP needs Kurdish votes, not only to increase its votes countrywide to prove it has emerged the victor from “the general vote of confidence,” but also to strengthen its hand against the BDP for the next round of negotiations in the reconciliation process. But the more Erdoğan courts Kurdish votes, does it mean he risks losing conservative voters? Again, if there is a desertion of conservative voters, does it necessarily mean it has taken place because of the AKP’s Kurdish policy?
Meanwhile, as each vote cast for the People’s Republican Party (CHP) cannot be attributed to disapproval of the Kurdish process, very careful scrutiny awaits political scientists to make a healthy analysis of the nation’s view on the issue.