Why I may vote for Kurdish nationalists

Why I may vote for Kurdish nationalists

There is now less than a month until Turkey’s next general elections, to be held on June 7. In the past, I would often be quite sure in these pre-election weeks about who I was going to vote for. This time, I am not. I am only sure that whoever I vote for, I will not do it lovingly. There is only a higher chance at this point that this unloving vote may go to the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which is basically the party of Kurdish nationalists. 

First let me explain why I am all too ambiguous. I am traditionally a center-right voter, a Turkish political tradition whose heroes include the late Adnan Menderes (1950-60) and the late Turgut Özal (1983-93). That center-right backdrop had me quite supportive of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the 2000s as well, because the AKP seemed to be a post-Islamist movement that evolved into the center-right. But that nice AKP is not out there anymore. It took a dramatic twist in the past three years, devolving into an Islamist, “revolutionary” and intimidating party, with an unquestionable leader whose temptation to gather ever more power only polarizes society more and more. 

The two main opposition parties, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), are certainly more modest and arguably more likeable than the AKP at this point. But their ideologies still have elements that are not up my alley. The party whose ideology is closest to me is perhaps the Liberal Democrat Party (LDP) but I have my doubts there too. The LDP votes are miniscule (less than 0.1 percent!) and it is inevitable that my vote for them will practically be a “waste.”

This is because of Turkey’s unusually high and utterly shameful electoral threshold. Accordingly, unless a party gets 10 percent of the national vote, it cannot get even one seat in parliament. If a party wins even 9.9 percent of the national votes, all of that goes in the trash, while the bigger parties share the bounty.

According a recent projection by Konsensus, a polling company, three parties will safely pass the threshold this June: the AKP, the CHP and the MHP. But the HDP is on the knife’s edge, with some 9.7 percent of the votes. If they can make it to 10 percent, they will have some 60 seats in the 550-strong Turkish parliament. But if they fail to pass, all those seats will go to their only rival in the Kurdish populace: the AKP. 

The AKP seats in parliament, in that case, may go above the critical 330-seat barrier, giving the party enough power to make a whole new constitution by itself. And a constitution made only by the AKP (or any other single actor in Turkish politics, for that matter) will be nothing but a disaster. Constitutions should come by broad national consensus and not the ambitions of partisan winners. 

Moreover, if the HDP stays out of parliament, that can have a radicalizing effect on its already agitated base, putting the much-needed “peace process” between Kurdish militants and the government at risk.

These are the two reasons that compel me to consider voting strategically for the HDP, for the first and possibly last time, in these elections. This is not to disregard the ethnic nationalism and militancy in the party base – something that romantic Western observers might neglect by looking merely at “progressive” leftist rhetoric the HDP uses. It is just to accept that an HDP inside parliament will be better for Turkish democracy than an HDP outside of parliament.