Kurdish roulette

There are four months left until the parliamentary elections in Turkey, and one of the many puzzling parts of the political game is what the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) is up to.

Yet, it is a key party whose fundamental decisions will test the resilience of whatever is left of democracy here. It has chiefly to do with the persistent rhetoric by the main figures of the HDP that it is firm in its decision to enter the elections as a party — as opposed to running successfully with independent candidates in two earlier elections — that raises eyebrows. From the outset, the main argument for this major shift was that the HDP could pass the notorious 10 percent election threshold (in order to be able to enter Parliament), but there is a lot of room before one can be convinced of this. Suspicion also inevitably enters the picture because Turkey’s story is dramatically different than when the so-called Kurdish peace process began in January 2013. Almost all of the expectations about the process — utmost transparency possible with a clear roadmap, well-established expertise, objective monitoring and, most importantly, synced with drafting a democratic constitution — are now gone. Despite the fact that the process has demanded leadership in order to convince the entire nation, there are still large chunks of society left wondering about the party — primarily due to a lack of inclusive management and a profound suspicion of what can be seen as a “sellout” for failing to concern itself with the Kurdish issue and identity. The overall perception becomes even more polluted as long as HDP figures remain ambiguous and often stay away from commenting on Turkey as a whole, which is being driven inch by inch towards autocratic rule. HDP figures are busy bragging these days as if passing the 10 percent threshold is a slam-dunk. The big problem is that no one knows where they get their figures from. It raises worrisome questions of a daredevil Kurdish gamble that promises to jeopardize whatever is left of the political balance in Parliament. Indeed, a failure by the HDP will ruin the entire picture, possibly toppling the negotiations between Ankara and the PKK, and leaving the door wide open to the destruction of social stability. One of Turkey’s most respected polling companies, KONDA Research and Consultancy (also known for extensive research on Turkey’s Kurds), shares these concerns. In a recent analysis Bekir Ağırdır, KONDA’s director, implies that the HDP may indeed have its head in the clouds. He offers some sobering data: The HDP’s vote in the 2011 and 2014 elections hovered around 5.7-6.6 percent. There are a total of 45-46 million voters in Turkey. To pass the 10 percent threshold, the HDP needs to get 4.6 million votes nationwide. According to KONDA data, the Kurdish population accounts for 15 percent of the country’s total population, which corresponds to 7 million Kurdish voters. In the last few elections, 3.4 million of the Kurdish votes have gone to the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and 2.6 million to the HDP. Simply put, the HDP needs roughly 2 million more votes.

How to close this gap?

“It would be utterly difficult for the HDP to pass the threshold without at least tripling its votes in the eight biggest cities,” Ağırdır argues.

“Besides, taking as a basis the votes Demirtaş mustered in the presidential election and the distribution of votes according to the provinces, at most five to six more seats in Parliament would be obtained in the case of passing the threshold. In other words, the HDP passing the threshold only through increasing its votes in its stronghold (southeast Turkey) will not bring a meaningful increase in the number of seats secured,” Ağırdır continued.

“Another point is the fact that the size of the actors within the alliances and partnerships formed during the process of establishing the HDP — traditional leftist and socialist parties and movements — are not enough to pass the threshold, either,” he concluded. Why is the HDP so tenacious on choosing a high-risk path when it can secure even more seats than it has now by running with independent candidates? Is there a tacit agreement between the AKP and HDP about the post-election roadmap? Is it now the Kurds’ turn to be duped by the utterly cunning President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan administration as it aims for autocratic rule? A failure will almost certainly leave all of the Kurdish votes to the next party in line, which will be the AKP. It means a constitutional majority for Erdoğan, and a farewell to all democratic dreams.

About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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