What role will the Kurds play in the presidential polls?

What role will the Kurds play in the presidential polls?

With nearly two months left to the presidential polls, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government is introducing all indications that it is pushing the Kurdish peace process. Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay announced on Sunday, June 1, that the government was in preparation to intensify the peace process through bold and concrete steps.

Informing that these steps were discussed at a high-level meeting on May 19 with the participation of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Atalay stressed “I will not go into the content of the new decisions, but I can say it has been decided to work on a new roadmap and take quicker steps for results.”

A similar approach was voiced by a prominent People’s Democracy Party (HDP) lawmaker, Sırrı Süreyya Önder, who is a part of the team routinely visiting imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) Abdullah Öcalan. Following their latest visit to İmralı İsland, where Öcalan has been serving life sentence, Önder expressed optimism that “the ongoing political talks between the government and the HDP would likely yield a result.”

Following the government’s meeting May 19, Atalay, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ and Interior Minister Efkan Ala held a meeting with Önder, Pervin Buldan and İdris Baluken, two other HDP lawmakers in talks with Öcalan, at the office of the Prime Ministry before their scheduled visit to İmralı. These series of talks obviously granted a new impetus in the peace process, as the government is readying to hold a very important meeting in Diyarbakır on June 6.

A high-level government team composed of Atalay, Ala, PM Erdoğan’s advisor Yalçın Akdoğan, and other top figures dealing with the issue, as well as relevant bureaucrats, will hold consultative meetings with prominent representatives of the nongovernmental organizations and other important local figures in the peace process. Although the seam team held similar initiatives in the past, the meeting in Diyarbakır will mark a first.   

In not so parallel to the developments on the political scene, news coming from southeastern Anatolia has the potential of casting a shadow on this momentum. The issue of kidnapped children by the PKK, road blocks and racketeering are issues overwhelmingly reported over the last few weeks. The abducted children issue is seemingly more important compared to the others, but it seems this is a government-driven campaign to distract public attention from political talks with the Kurds.

The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) is heavily building its policies on the government’s negotiations with the Kurdish political groups on the eve of the presidential elections. Therefore, preoccupying the country’s agenda with this issue could be considered as part of the government’s strategy, that it is in fact not bowing down before the PKK or its political affiliations.

Although going at a snail-like pace, the peace process is moving in the right direction as efforts from both sides have so far prevented any sort of armed clashes, and therefore casualties. In this very sensitive political climate, in which parties are eyeing each other’s moves over upcoming presidential elections, there is no doubt the rapprochement between the AKP and HDP has links with August’s polls.
With oppositional parties seeking to find a joint candidate against the prime minister, Erdoğan’s most likely ally will surely be the Kurds, particularly for the second round of votes if he cannot win it in the first round. It will surely take time to see how this alliance will affect the peace process with reports that the Kurds are likely to press for more autonomy in the aftermath of presidential elections.