Kurdish opposition HDP hits Erdoğan’s super-presidency plan for Turkey

Kurdish opposition HDP hits Erdoğan’s super-presidency plan for Turkey

Selahattin Demirtaş, the co-chairman of the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), did something rare in Turkish politics on March 17.

He delivered the shortest speech ever to his party group, a speech that lasted only a few minutes, in order to avoid being lost in interpretation. In it, Demirtaş said that as long as the HDP exists, they would never let President Tayyip Erdoğan become the super-president that he targets. He repeated the same sentence three times, one after another, in order to endorse it. 

He received very enthusiastic applause, cheers and chants from his followers in the hall, which demonstrated the need for such a statement, as well as the support for it.

“We are not a party to bargain [with our principles],” Demirtaş said. “We cannot ignore the mistakes of the [ruling] Justice and Development Party [AK Parti] for the sake of the [Kurdish dialogue] process.” 

That was a direct reference to the ongoing talks with the government and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), of which the HDP shares a similar grassroots. The crucial role of the HDP includes shuttling between the İmralı Island prison south of Istanbul, where the jailed leader of the PKK, Abdullah Öcalan, is held, and the PKK headquarters in the Kandil Mountains of Iraq. 

The government expects a letter from Öcalan to be read in Diyarbakır on the occasion of the traditional Nevruz festival on March 21, calling on the PKK to declare a “reinforced cease-fire” aiming at a farewell to arms. That makes the timing of Demirtaş’s statement more critical.

The statement was actually a categorical denial against speculation that has been increasing for the last few weeks about a secret deal between the HDP and the AK Parti over a new constitution after the June 7 parliamentary elections, which would bring a shift to a strong presidential system, from the current parliamentary one, and also give extensive rights to Kurds in Turkey.

With this statement, the HDP joined the ranks of the opposition standing against Erdoğan’s super-presidency target. The social democratic main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) have already denounced Erdoğan’s target as an attempt to install “one-man-rule” in Turkey in order to “establish a dictatorship.” In fact, neither the AK Parti nor its chairman and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu have up to now given their support in public for Erdoğan’s super-presidency, in which there would be no place for a prime minister.

The debate was started by a speech from Erdoğan in early February, when he said the solution to Turkey’s problems, including the Kurdish problem, would be a new constitution that would give additional executive powers to the president with fewer checks and balances. Erdoğan also said that some 400 seats in the 550-seat parliament were needed to accomplish that, which seems very difficult - if not impossible - under the current circumstances.

Another aspect of the timing of the Demirtaş statement is that it came right after two controversial recent remarks by Erdoğan. They actually came in the same speech on March 15. In the first one, Erdoğan said there was actually “No Kurdish problem left,” following the economic and cultural steps taken by the AK Parti. In response to this, Demirtaş had asked Erdoğan why in that case have they been carrying out the peace process dialogue for the last three years. 

Erdoğan’s second remark was that he actually thought Turkey should be run as a company, in which the executive decisions should not be slowed down by any other institutions, such as a parliament.

Demirtaş’s categorical denial of speculations about bargaining over Erdoğan’s super-presidency could well give a boost to the HDP in its bid to exceed the 10 percent hurdle for representation in parliament in the June 7 election.