What happened with the Kurdish votes?

What happened with the Kurdish votes?

An important debate following the referendum has focused on the shift of the Kurdish votes in the southeast. 

There are two important political actors in the region: the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Peoples’ Democracy Party (HDP). 

The “yes” votes in several cities are above the votes the AKP got in the Nov. 1, 2015, general elections. There are places where the increase is around 10 percent and other places where it is even above 10 percent.

For instance, the “yes” votes in Şırnak are double the number of votes the AKP got in the November elections. By the same token, the “no” votes remained below the number of votes the HDP got in November, and we see this pattern repeated in other cities in the region.

Let’s focus on Cizre, a district of Şırnak where the urban warfare between security forces and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) was fiercest after the latter’s strategy was put into practice after the June 7 elections. 

The HDP got 56,484 (93.2 percent) votes on Nov. 1, while the AKP got 2,985 (4.9 percent) votes. On April 16, the “no” votes were 47,986, while the “yes” votes were 10,858.

No doubt Cizre presents a special situation.

Part of the population left the city due to the fighting, but received migration from different parts of Şırnak. In addition, as there has been a rise in the number of security forces, the movements of the population complicates the analyses in the town.

The number of votes cast is 2,000 less than Nov. 1. Still, the AKP’s “yes” performance resulted in a visible increase compared to November. The “no” votes were 8,500 less than the HDP’s votes in November.

How should we read all this? First of all, we are not talking about a homogeneous mass when the issue is the political preferences of Kurds. The conservative segments of Kurds have from the beginning voted to a large extent for the AKP nearly everywhere in Turkey. The AKP vote in the region relies mostly on the support of these segments.

Nevertheless, it is clear that the segments supporting the political movement headed by the HDP have a strong numeric dominance in the region. 

But the reaction among the people to the PKK’s return to terror again was the source of the limited shift toward the AKP in the Nov. 1 election. This shift advanced a little bit further on April 16. 

Another factor one needs to underline is the strong support given by the Islamist Free Cause Party (HÜDAPAR) to the “yes” campaign. The contribution to the referendum of this movement, which has a support base especially in Batman and Diyarbakır, was appreciated by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

In addition, the rise in the number of security officials deployed in the region after June 7 needs to be noted down even though it is not a factor that should be exaggerated. We might guess that part of the MHP’s limited votes have joined the “yes” camp.

On the other side, we need to list a series of negative developments which worked against the HDP while looking at the fact that HDP’s “no” performance remained numerically below the result it got in the November elections. The first one is the fact that the HDP was unable to lead as strong campaign as in the 2015 elections because its leaders and local officials were arrested.

The campaign took place at a time in which fighting continued in the region and in an environment dominated by the uneasy circumstances of the state of emergency.

The migration that took place in the region worked against the HDP as well. 

Those assigned by the HDP to observe the ballot boxes were not accepted by the electoral boards, which was also an issue of complaint. All these factors narrowed the space for the HDP to maneuver. HDP spokespeople have noted that they had to face widespread obstruction and pressure, especially in rural areas, during both the campaign and voting day. 

Despite all these complaints, the “no” votes were significantly ahead of the “yes” votes in the southeast. The HDP received 5.148 million votes in Nov 1. Some 23.777 million “no” votes were registered on April 16, and while there was a limited drop in the HDP’s nearly 5 million votes, the fact remains that it had an important share in the amount of “no” votes.