Will Kurds take the risk of absence in the Turkish parliament?

Will Kurds take the risk of absence in the Turkish parliament?

Please accept my apologies because of the over-simplification in the title; I should have written the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) instead of “Kurds,” but it would be too long.

Because not all Kurds in Turkey are voting for the HDP and not only Kurds are voting for it either.

According to Bekir Ağırdır, the head of the Konda polling company, as he wrote for the news web site www.t24.com.tr on Jan. 29, in the local elections on March 30, 2014, more voters of Kurdish origin (around 3.4 million) voted for the ruling Justice and Development Party (APK) than the HDP, which got around 2.6 million.

According to another poll conducted by the HDP itself, it was the presidential elections of Aug. 10, 2014, which mattered. In that election, Selahattin Demirtaş, the HDP candidate for presidency, managed to get nearly four million votes, which accounted for around 9.8 percent of the votes cast. 

That was the highest amount that a Kurdish problem-focused party had reached in an election. In the 2014 local elections, candidates from the HDP (or its predecessor, the Peace and Democracy Party) received 6.6 percent of the vote and in the 2011 parliamentary election it was only 5.7 percent.  

The 2014 presidential election result was possible thanks to the HDP widening its voter base by taking a number of minor Turkish leftist parties into their ranks. Some social democrats and liberals who were not happy with the candidate supported by the Republican People’s Party (CHP) –thanks to personal sympathy with Demirtaş- were among them. It was that result which encouraged the HDP to challenge the 10 percent election threshold in Turkey. The highest threshold in the world was imposed during the military rule after the 1980 coup in the name of political stability, which is defended even today by President Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu on the same basis.

Because of the unfair 10 percent threshold, the Kurdish problem-focused parties have so far preferred to get their candidates into parliament as “independents” before bringing them under the party umbrella. The HDP currently has 27 MPs in the Turkish parliament, with an estimated potential of 30-35 if it continues using the same method.

By relying on the study the HDP conducted and had unnamed polling companies carry out, Demirtaş announced they would go into the June 7, 2015 elections under their party name, not as a collection of independents. The study tells the HDP that if they manage to get another 600,000 votes, on top of the 3.9 million received in the presidential election, assuming that all voters from last August would stick with them until next June, they can overcome the 10 percent and get into parliament. And thanks to the calculation method of representation, the number of seats they can receive could rise exponentially: to between 57 and 72, according to three different HDP scenarios, despite Ağırdır’s calculations claiming the difference between “independent” and “party” scenarios would be only 5-6. 

It is not only the numbers which encourage the HDP to take this risk. It is also the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which shares a similar grassroots with them and has been carrying out talks with the Turkish government for more than two years toward a political settlement for the chronic Kurdish problem. 
HDP deputies play an important role as the link between the PKK and its imprisoned leader, Abdullah Öcalan, simply because of their parliamentary status. Living in the military headquarters of the PKK in the Kandil Mountains of Iraq, Cemal Şerik, a Central Committee member, was quoted in the daily Özgür Gündem recently saying the HDP has a potential of 15 percent and should go for it. 

Of course the PKK, which has been carrying out an armed campaign since 1984 which has claimed 40,000 lives so far, has its own plans differing from the HDP. Those include an “if there is no seat for us in the Turkish parliament in Ankara, we can set up our own in Diyarbakır” kind of blackmail directed toward Davutoğlu’s government. The risk is getting nothing and being excluded from parliament if the HDP finishes even one vote short of the killing 10 percent threshold. That had happened to the True Path Party (DYP) in the 2002 elections, which brought the AKP to power. The DYP managed to get 9.56 percent, but couldn’t reach 10 percent and was thus out of parliament. 

Moreover, if the HDP could not get 10 percent, almost all the seats in the dominantly Kurdish-populated east and southeast could go to the AKP, which is already getting some conservative/religious Kurdish voters. That could pave the way to a parliamentary majority and make Erdoğan’s strong presidential system come true.
Despite the HDP denial, this is the reason why European Union diplomats, as reported by Hürriyet Daily News’ Serkan Demirtaş on Jan. 31, have tried to warn Demirtaş about the risks it could bring to Turkish democracy and stability.

The absence of the HDP in the next parliament if they cannot get in will be heavily felt, not only in the PKK talks and the possibility of PKK resuming armed attacks, but also pushing Turkey forward in terms of rights and freedoms.

And despite HDP optimism and enthusiasm, Ağırdır claims the HDP has to multiply its votes by three-fold in the eight largest Turkish cities in order to close the gap and reach the 10 percent threshold. 

Will Kurds take the risk of absence in the Turkish parliament?