Kurdish votes key to Turkish elections

Kurdish votes key to Turkish elections

The rise of the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) in recent polls has started to put pressure on the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) and President Tayyip Erdoğan, as Turkey heads to parliamentary elections on June 7.

The key issue is whether the HDP will manage to exceed the 10 percent parliamentary threshold, if indeed its candidates do enter the elections under the party banner. The deputies of the HDP’s predecessors have preferred to enter the elections as independent candidates and then rejoined their parties after the vote in order to bypass the threshold. The unfair 10 percent hurdle was first imposed by the military regime after the 1980 coup in order to prevent Kurdish and Islamist parties from getting into parliament. It is now supported by the AK Parti for the sake of “political stability.”

It would be misleading to say the HDP represents all Kurdish votes, which are roughly divided into two: The Islamist or conservative Kurds usually cast their votes for the AK Parti, while leftist or nationalist Kurds vote for the HDP, which also manages to attract some votes from the Turkish left.

Thanks to a widened vote base and its charismatic co-chairman Selahattin Demirtaş, the HDP was able to break the 6-7 percent band and get 9.8 percent for Demirtaş in the presidential elections. That potential - along with the rising popularity of Kurdish politics with the political settlement-aimed talks between the Ahmet Davutoğlu government and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which shares similar grassroots with the HDP - make them hopeful of exceeding the 10 percent threshold. This means almost doubling the 25-30-seat potential that they had when they entered as individuals.

If they cannot exceed the threshold, the lack of representation of the HDP in parliament would cause a big political vacuum. It is a big unknown whether it might lead to a resumption of armed struggle by the PKK or an early election to balance the situation. But the HDP’s absence could also make President Erdoğan feel closer to the super-presidential model that he has been promoting for a while.

Because of the complicated calculating system, the HDP falling short of parliamentary representation would mean mores seats for the AK Parti, especially in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish east and southeast.

Erdoğan has been insisting on getting 400-seat support for his desired presidential model in the 550-seat parliament. This does not seem realistic at the moment, but he would certainly be happy to see the AK Parti getting more than 330 seats, which would be enough to take any change in the constitution, or an entirely new constitution, to a referendum. Erdoğan has yet to receive any public expression of support from either Prime Minister Davutoğlu or AK Parti officials for his model, which sidelines the prime ministry and suggests weaker separation of powers and weaker checks and balances. However, under the circumstances of the AK Parti getting more than 330 seats, he could put more pressure on both to support the super-presidency.

But if the HDP gets more than 10 percent, even assuming that the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) are unable to increase their vote share, it would be very difficult for the AK Parti to get more than 300 seats. It currently has 312 seats. If votes for the AK Parti drop below 42 percent then Davutoğlu could find himself struggling to form a single party government (which needs 276 seats) without additional support.

Of course, one may speculate that forming a single party government and not being able to impose a super-presidential system on parliament would work perfectly for Davutoğlu, if not for Erdoğan.

In any case, Kurdish voters are likely to determine the outcome of the June 7 elections.

That is why Erdoğan is giving so much importance to the talks with the PKK, hoping that Hakan Fidan’s return to the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) could speed it up, which may lead to a better bargaining position with the Kurds over the super-presidency.

As a final note: Yesterday I quoted Pervin Buldan, an HDP deputy involved in the talks, as saying that the formation of the “monitoring group,” which is assumed to be key for the start of the political negotiations, has been completed. However, after a denial from Deputy Prime Minister Yalçın Akdoğan, the HDP said yesterday that the formation was still not completed. It seems that rushing the process too much may cause similar uncertainty in the future too.