Erdoğan has no solution for Kurds at the polls - Economist

Despite his tight grip on Turkey’s military front and judiciary, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been unable to convince millions of Kurds to vote for him, said the Economist on Saturday.

The pro-Kurdish left-wing Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) has consistently won five to six million votes from among Turkey’s 57 million eligible voters, allowing it to overcome the country’s high parliamentary elections threshold of 10 percent. At its peak in 2015; the party won 13 percent of the vote and 80 seats, making it the third largest party represented in parliament.

Before crossing the threshold, the HDP and its predecessors, such as the People’s Democracy Party (HADEP), had achieved more success in local elections, often winning the majority of mayoral seats in areas with high Kurdish populations.

In the 2014 local elections, HDP won 102 municipalities in Turkey’s east and southeast. Two years later, the Erdoğan’s government began dismissing 95 of the municipalities’ mayors, many of whom later faced terrorism charges.

In 2019, the HDP won in 65 municipalities despite the ongoing crackdown on the party. Six mayors were never given their mandates, and the rest were dismissed over terrorism charges to be replaced with government appointees, leaving only six district municipalities with HDP mayors as of October 2020.

One of the most recent dismissals and arrests was in Kars, which lies on Turkey’s eastern border with Armenia. Mayor Ayhan Bilgen, a journalist and veteran politician, was arrested as part of an investigation into a series of 2014 protests turned violent. Ankara’s chief public prosecutor ordered the arrests of 82 people, including the HDP’s current and former administrators and deputies, in September.

Erdoğan “believes he is close to burying the dream of Kurdish autonomy,” the Economist said, “both inside and outside the country’s borders.”

The current crackdown is related to the protests that took place in October 2014, when people throughout the country took to the streets to demonstrate against an Islamic State (ISIS) siege of the small Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani and Turkey’s apparent indifference to the subsequent massacre therein.

Turkey’s judicial system remanded four former HDP deputies in custody this week, in a move that, according to the party’s jailed former co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş, uses “the judiciary to neutralise the HDP and intimidate the opposition.”

Turkish authorities often charge HDP members of links to the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), an armed group that is designated a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

The opposition coalition against Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) hesitates to openly associate with the HDP over such accusations, which Erdoğan uses to his advantage.

“They want to prevent the HDP from functioning and to upset the structure of the opposition coalition,” Robert Bosch Academy fellow Galip Dalay told the Economist. The HDP was instrumental in helping opposition candidates win back seats in Istanbul and Ankara in last year’s elections.

Erdoğan “thinks he has the PKK and the HDP on the ropes, but the government has an intractable problem - the Kurds themselves,” the Economist said.