Pious Kurdish voters step aside from backing the AKP

At this stage of the election race, I am not at all sure whether or not the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) will be able to pass the 10 percent hurdle, which is necessary to enter Parliament, but it seems certain that the pious Kurdish vote has been shifting away from the Justice and Development Party (AKP).

This trend has had to do with the radical U-turn of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who once more (as he did before the last general election in 2011) has returned to denialist rhetoric, not only declaring that “there is no Kurdish problem in this country” but also fiercely demonizing the HDP line, thus alienating — at best, confusing — the conservative, tribe-affiliated local Kurds in the “deep Southeast” of the country.

The answer to why Erdoğan has focused on what he saw as the weak point of the HDP’s election discourse is easy to pinpoint: the attacks by Selahattin Demirtaş, the co-chair of the HDP, who pledged to abolish the Religious Affairs Directorate, arguably the most powerful instrument of the Kemalist state structure and inherited by the AKP with enthusiasm, since it sees a great use of it. That is why Erdoğan goes from rally to rally with a Quran in hand, bragging about its translated edition into Kurdish.

But the trend seems, from his vantage point, utterly worrisome. The escape of the devout Kurds seems to have spread into the high echelons of the party, exposing the panic of power eventually to be lost.

Mind you, while the cop-out of the Kurdish vote from the AKP is a fact, it does not mean a flow of votes to the HDP. The best clues, which confirm the volatility of conservative Kurdish votes, was reflected in Abdülkadir Selvi’s column in the Yeni Şafak daily yesterday. A staunchly pro-government columnist, Selvi is very well informed from within the party, taking its pulse constantly.

As of last November, the AKP enjoyed support as high as 55 percent, writes Selvi, but, he argues, due to the Roboski bombing cover-up, Erdoğan’s cynical rhetoric about Kobani falling into Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) hands and his fierce assertions declaring the Kurdish issue to be non-existent, this has led to what he calls “undecided AKP voters” of up to 14 percent.

This is a rather new category, which obviously will define the very outcome of the final vote (along with the votes from abroad). This unusually high segment is composed of those who now distance themselves, and would vote rather unwillingly (reminiscent of the phenomenon from the British election) “in the last moment” for either the HDP or the conservative SP/BBP block.

The key question is, where will we end up with the outcome? Will there be a Parliament with three or four parties? The cursor still swings between the two options.

The talks with the respected pollsters and analysts, in a nutshell, offer us some key clues:

First, given the awareness and traditional sense of engagement, a turnout of at least 80 percent is expected. The higher the turnout, the stronger the chances for the HDP to enter Parliament. Demirtaş is lately very keen to end his rallies with calls that “one vote matters.”

Second, given the pious Kurdish dismay with Erdoğan’s denialist discourse, the HDP is surely expected to raise its vote portion in the mainly Kurdish native provinces.

Third, a comparative analysis with the referendum in 2010, the elections in 2011, local elections plus the presidential election last year makes it crystal clear the AKP is unable to raise the number of votes: It has stagnated at around 21 million votes, as opposed to a total of about 15 million in the rival camps.

Simply put, Turkey remains in a deadlock, possibly due to the reversal of the reform process, which has deepened the trenches and awakened the old dynamics.

At this stage, then, another point is in the offering: Erdoğan has lost his prospects for a presidential system, and if the discontent of the AKP voters with the economy merges with the disgruntled Kurdish conservatives’ vote, what he can expect at best is a weak one-party rule.

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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