Did the PKK withdraw its threshold condition for Kurdish peace?
The 10 percent election threshold in Turkey is the highest such threshold in the world.
It was put in the Constitution during the military rule after the coup in 1980 in order to prevent Islamic or Kurdish-focused parties from getting into Parliament; any parties that got less than 10 percent of the vote would not be able to send members to Parliament.
That kind of political engineering did not work, especially when combined with systematic policies based on limiting rights and freedoms.
For example, the Islamic/conservative-rooted Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) won the 2002 elections and has been in power ever since though three consecutive elections.
Meanwhile, Kurdish problem-focused parties, which share similar grassroots with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been engaged in an armed campaign since 1984, has found a way to bypass the 10 percent threshold. They put forward independent candidates, especially in the predominantly Kurdish-populated east and southeast of Turkey, who join together in Parliament after being elected to form a group, (which needs at least 20 out of 550 seats). That is how the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) currently has a group in Parliament.
The AK Parti used to be a staunch opponent of the unfair 10 percent threshold and promised to lower it if they got into power.
However, after ascending to power (former-Prime Minister now-President) Tayyip Erdoğan forgot about this, and became the number one supporter of the threshold “for the sake of stability”.
When Haşim Kılıç, the president of the Constitutional Court, recently said the Court was looking into a violation claim by an opposition party member against the 10 percent threshold, Erdoğan reacted strongly. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said the AK Parti was “not afraid of thresholds” and gave no indication that they would lowering it, at least before the 2015 elections.
The threshold is indeed a system that is unfair to the opposition parties because of the unique advantages that are given to the party that receives the highest number of votes. For example, if there was no 10 percent threshold, the HDP could have 40 to 45 MPs, instead of its current 21.
This is why one of four basic conditions for a lasting ceasefire and eventual peace deal by Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the PKK, was a lowering of the threshold.
That condition was put forward after the collapse of the Oslo talks in 2010 and before the September 2010 constitutional referendum. Öcalan’s three other conditions were the ceasing of military operations against the PKK, the release of KCK (the PKK’s popular front) detainees, and being considered a counterpart for the negotiations.
Afterward, Öcalan did indeed become the negotiating partner in the new round of talks started in 2012 through Hakan Fidan, the head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT). There are also almost no KCK detainees left in prisons, and the military is in a defensive position, despite the PKK’s growing military presence in the east and southeast, fuelled by the situation in Iraq and Syria, especially after the emerging of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Both the government and the HDP say negotiations involving HDP members of Parliament are now at an advanced stage.
However, there is so far little word from either the HDP or the PKK regarding the current threshold debate rocking Turkish politics. This suggests that perhaps there has been a bargain to keep the 10 percent threshold as is, which would be key for Erdoğan to maintain the AK Parti’s dominant position for at least another 10-15 years.