Kurds will play a very important role in Turkey’s elections

Kurds will play a very important role in Turkey’s elections

With less than 50 days to go until snap elections, political parties’ pre-election campaigns have already begun, with the announcement this week of their presidential candidates. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will run for the title as the joint candidate of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) under the “People’s Alliance.”

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) registered MP Muharrem İnce as its presidential contender, while veteran politician Meral Akşener is the nominee of the İYİ (Good) Party. The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) has announced that its imprisoned former co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş will be its presidential candidate, just as it did in 2014. Meanwhile, conservative Felicity Party (SP) leader Temel Karamollaoğlu will run for the presidency from the ranks of his party.

In the meantime, the CHP, the İYİ Party, the SP and the Democrat Party (DP) are due to officially announce the alliance they have formed in order to cancel out the 10 percent threshold obstacle and to increase the representation of these parties in parliament.

However, because of the strong rejection of the İYİ Party the opposition alliance has excluded the HDP and pushed the pro-Kurdish party to run individually in the parliamentary election. Although senior HDP officials are very confident that the party will cross the national election threshold and that Demirtaş will come second in the first round of the presidential elections, there are serious doubts about the performance of the HDP in both polls on June 24.

Demirtaş is a charismatic and successful politician who achieved an historic 13 percent election result in the June 2015 parliamentary election. As the youngest of the candidates, he has the capacity to reach out to voters of other parties too. However, he is jailed and there is no any chance of him being acquitted of all charges any time soon. What’s more, his candidacy also needs to be cleared by the Supreme Election Board (YSK).

In the parliamentary election: HDP co-leaders, who met with a group of EU ambassadors and diplomats last week, seemed confident that the party will manage to pass 10 percent threshold. Indeed, a number of opinion polls also suggest that the party still has the potential to enter parliament in the next election.

However, it can be observed that the party no longer has the same stimulus that it had ahead of the 2015 elections because of the fact that the political landscape has steadily shrunk the HDP’s political space. Over the last two years, the party’s co-leaders and around a dozen of its lawmakers have been jailed. Around another dozen of them have lost their seats in parliament and many of its local mayors have been dismissed from office.

The party has lost almost all of its media visibility. Continued terror attacks by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the ongoing fight against the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the broad public support for that operation have further marginalized the HDP in the eyes of public opinion. It should also be noted that the HDP failed to create a distance between itself and the PKK, and to denounce terror attacks perpetrated by the PKK.

Questions also arise about the electoral behavior of pious Kurds in the upcoming elections. There are those who argue that pious Kurds will vote for the HDP and Demirtaş in these elections, as they observe a kind of consolidation among Turkish citizens of Kurdish descent. However, others suggest that it will be very hard to make a forecast about this as many Kurds voted in favor of AKP-sponsored constitutional amendments in 2017.

Another factor that could have an impact on the results is the fact that the new Election Law will be implemented on June 24. A number of items in the new law could bring about additional difficulties for HDP voters, particularly in the east and southeast of the country, amid “security concerns.”

All this is important because the result that the HDP gets will be very significant in terms of the composition of parliament, while Kurdish votes will also be key if the presidential election goes to a second round.

In the event that the HDP is able to enter parliament, the opposition bloc will have the chance to secure a majority against the AKP-MHP’s “People’s Alliance.” If not, the “People’s Alliance” will likely garner a strong majority in parliament because the AKP will be able to sweep up a good portion of HDP seats as it is the second party in almost all the areas where the HDP leads in polls.

For a possible second round in the presidential election, Kurdish votes will again play an important role. It will most likely either be Meral Akşener or Muharrem İnce standing against Erdoğan in the runoff vote. Although HDP officials do not want to comment on who HDP voters would turn to in a second round, it is believed that the CHP’s İnce would have a better chance than Akşener in attracting Kurdish votes. After all, Akşener’s reputation as a former interior minister is not a good one in the eyes of most Kurdish voters. If Kurds opt to not go to vote in the second round, that would certainly work to the advantage of Erdoğan.

In conclusion, the current political picture suggests that the HDP and its voters will be the real kingmaker in both parliamentary and presidential elections on June 24.