Re-elections in Turkey amid the escalating Kurdish problem

Re-elections in Turkey amid the escalating Kurdish problem

* The article was written before the outlawed PKK's deadly Dağlıca attack on Sept. 6.

If stability also means predictability in both economy and politics, it is not valid for Turkey at all times.

It would have been very difficult for an observer to predict both the current political scene and the Kurdish issue as a major problem in Turkey six months ago.

In the first half of March 2015, the predictions regarding the Kurdish problem were on the most optimistic track. Actually, President Tayyip Erdoğan was no longer calling it a problem; he was calling it the “brotherhood project” and the Kurdish “peace” process was about to come to a happy end.

Following a meeting in the prime minister’s office in Istanbul’s Dolmabahçe Palace on Feb. 28 between the government, the Justice and Development Party (AK Parti), and the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), all eyes had been set on Nevruz on March 21. The HDP had been facilitating the talks between the government, Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and the PKK headquarters in the Kandil Mountains of Iraq. And on March 21, two members of the Turkish parliament on the HDP list were going to read a letter from Öcalan calling on the PKK for an immediate decision (supposedly by giving a deadline, allegedly April 15) to abandon arms and its armed struggle, which he had started in 1984 and which has claimed some 40,000 lives so far.

Both Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu were eager to get it done as soon as possible, thinking it would further boost AK Parti support, especially by appealing to Kurdish voters in the June 7 election, only three months away. Erdoğan was also hoping such appreciation could bring him a constitutional shift from a parliamentary system to a presidential regime in Turkey and was asking for 400 seats in the 550-seat parliament in order to be able to do that. 

Davutoğlu was challenging (and actually mocking) the social democratic Republican People’s Party (CHP) for not being able to go “East of Sivas,” meaning they would not be welcomed in the mostly Kurdish populated provinces, unlike the AK Parti.

The political predictions six months ago were saying the AK Parti would lose some votes but not the government. The forecasts were around 300, plus or minus 20 seats. 

Then, it was not 100 percent clear whether the HDP would get into parliament under its own emblem, instead of by-passing the 10 percent threshold by showing independent candidates for parliamentary seats.

That would mean almost doubling its presence in parliament, while taking the risk of being kept out of it.

That would also mean they would carve those seats from the AK Parti’s overrepresented presence in the east and southeast.

When the HDP announced it would enter the election on its own, Erdoğan upgraded his visibility with rallies and presidential addresses, telling people there was no longer a Kurdish problem, so there was no need for Kurdish voters to lean towards the HDP and they should make their choice for stability and thus a shift to a strong presidential system.

Then came HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş’s key speech – the shortest one ever - on March 17 in the Turkish parliament, telling Erdoğan they would not let him be the president he wanted to be.

There was no mention of a date for the PKK congress over abandoning arms in Öcalan’s speech on March 21, Erdoğan denied there was any agreement in Dolmabahçe, and actually he was upset with the government taking pictures with the HDP, and the entire setting of the elections was changed.

The HDP got 13 percent and 80 seats. The AK Parti got 258, unable to form a one-party government.

Davutoğlu could not form a coalition with Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the CHP, under discouraging remarks by Erdoğan and the anti-Kurdish dialogue stance of the National Movement Party (MHP), and Erdoğan decided for a reelection, for the first time in Turkey, on Nov. 1st.

Now after six months, the PKK has resumed its acts of terror and almost daily attacks, in which many police and military officers and civilians have been killed. In reciprocating military and police operations every other day some more PKK militants and again civilians are also killed.

Murat Karayılan, one of the main PKK figures in Kandil HQ, recently said this was just the beginning and if Erdoğan and the “AK Parti state” continued to “punish Kurds” for not giving him the kind of presidency he wanted, the PKK would escalate its campaign - that means threatening more acts of terror.

The government’s joining of the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is somehow limiting its air strikes against the PKK, because of American criticism claiming it weakens ground resistance against ISIL in both Iraq and Syria.

Now it is Kılıçdaroğlu’s turn to challenge Davutoğlu (and sort of mock him) for not being able to go to “East of Sivas,” because very few AK Parti MPs are traveling safely in the PKK-active east and southeast, whereas CHP deputies are traveling there and observing violations by both the PKK and the state’s security forces. Sezgin Tanrıkulu and Aylin Nazlıaka have been in the PKK/PYD (the Democratic Union Party, the PKK’s Syrian sister) held Syrian town of Kobane for the funerals of drowned refugee boy Aylan Kurdi, his brother and mother.

Tanrıkulu was in the Iraqi border town of Cizre, where the PKK and security forces have engaged in immense clashes, and reported the situation from there. Two CHP deputies are in Baghdad in order to contribute to the efforts to release 18 Turkish employees kidnapped there by gunmen last week.

The roles in the Kurdish issue have dramatically changed in the last six months with no guarantee they could change once again. It is the same for politics, too. Erdoğan wanted a reelection hoping it could bring a majority to the AK Parti in parliament and de facto executive powers to the president, despite any change in the constitution. But all the polls show the June 7 picture - no single AK Parti government - could be repeated.

Recent work by showed that only a drop in HDP votes in east and southeast Turkey could change the picture on the AK Parti’s behalf, since most of the HDP seats in parliament are from those provinces, despite the fact only half of its votes are from there. The Radar analysis claimed the security situation in the east and southeast might deter voters (AK Parti voters, too) from getting to the ballot box on Nov. 1, but only the HDP would dramatically suffer from that, since the AK Parti are able to get votes across the country. The same analysis also claimed that if the security policies right now cause a decrease in overall turnout, the CHP is the party which could benefit more out of it because first it doesn’t get much votes from the east and southeast, and secondly its dominantly secular and modernist grassroots would go to the polls in order to not allow Erdoğan to rule the country without effective checks and balances.