HDP normalizes both Kurdish and Turkish politics

HDP normalizes both Kurdish and Turkish politics

The Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which is focused on the Kurdish problem, announced its election manifesto on April 21 in Istanbul with the aim of surpassing the unfair 10 percent national threshold in the Turkish election system.

The threshold, the highest in the world, was brought into effect after the military coup in 1980 in order to stop socialist, Islamist and Kurdish parties from getting into parliament. It was the Welfare Party first which broke that chain; the Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) followed in their footsteps to take power in 2002. Ironically enough, the AK Parti, which has ruled the country since, is happy with the 10 percent threshold (which it used to complain about when it was the opposition) in the name of the same justification as the military: political stability.

Now it is the HDP’s turn to break that threshold to get into the parliament with an influential presence. Kurdish-focused parties so far have acted more or less like a parliamentary front for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which started an armed campaign in 1984 with the aim of carving out an independent Kurdish state from Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria that has claimed some 40,000 lives so far. But those parties never exceeded 6 percent of the votes at best. In order to bypass the trap, the predecessors of the HDP used to run “independents,” meaning unofficial party candidates in the predominantly Kurdish-populated east and southeast of the country, being elected with an unfair vote/representation rate and reunited under the party emblem after taking their oaths in parliament.

An initiative of President (then-Prime Minister) Tayyip Erdoğan started dialogue with Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the PKK, via the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) in 2012 in pursuit of solving the chronic Kurdish problem. Along the way, Öcalan proposed another party which would not only deal with the Kurdish cause but also with democratization goals to embrace Turkish socialists (who could not create strong political parties after the military coup), democrats and liberals who had respect for more Kurdish rights and would no longer promote Kurdish independence but a democratic Turkey.

That has proved to be a good idea so far. With that formula, Selahattin Demirtaş, the co-chairman of the HDP, managed to attract 9.8 percent of the votes in the 2014 presidential elections, which encouraged them to challenge the 10 percent threshold; the difference in the number of seats through “independent” deputies or direct representation is almost twofold. In the meantime, Öcalan called the PKK to consider disarmament.

In the election manifest read April 20 by Demirtaş and co-chairwoman Figen Yüksekdağ, a Turkish socialist the HDP hopes to gain votes through beyond its Kurdish grassroots, they have attempted to attract votes from the mainstream opposition parties by underlining their opposition to the strong presidency that Erdoğan wants to bring in with sufficient AK Parti votes after the June 7 elections; that would be impossible (mathematically) anyway if the HDP exceeds the threshold.

Without the HDP, perhaps the social democratic opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) would not be that explicit about a solution to Kurdish problem and the AK Parti would not be criticized so much for “forgetting” (according to Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu) to include the “Kurdish solution” in their election manifesto. (They “inserted” it yesterday.)

It is not clear whether the HDP will break the 10 percent threshold on June 7, but it has already normalized and enriched Turkish politics and Kurdish politics, as well.