Emboldened by local elections, Erdogan looks to the Kurds in presidential bid
The local elections in Turkey were widely touted as a pivotal landmark and referendum on the 11 year rule of AKP and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Whilst Erdogan has been under great pressure of late and has endured much publicity, he was not only able to come out the elections fighting but emboldened to the contrary of expectations from opposition circles.
This goes to show that in democracy even if 1 million come to the streets in stern opposition, it is relative and not always a reflection of the sentiment of millions that decide not to take to the streets. His opposition cannot be taken lightly but his support is evidently greater.
In the end the Gülenists failed to demonstrate that they have the political clout to strike a real blow to Erdogan and the AKP. The resounding victory gave Erdogan renewed confidence to undermine and attack the Gülenists and Erdogan hardly hid his desire to root them out, holding them responsible for unrest in Turkey and smear campaigns against the government.
The election results provide a platform for Erdogan to pursue his longtime ambition of replacing Abdullah Gul as president at the presidential elections in August, where for the first time the president will be elected by popular vote and not by government.
The Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) had a decent showing at the elections even if they failed to woe their targeted number of votes, but AKP continued to fair strongly in Kurdish districts.
There is popular consensus amongst Kurds that Erdogan, who has been the instigator of much welcome reform of Kurdish rights and gradual steering away of nationalist hysteria against the Kurds, is the key to the continuation of the peace process.
Even though the pace and scope of the peace process has disappointed and not met Kurdish expectations, Erdogan has taken political risk amidst a backdrop of nationalist opposition.
In this light, dealing a blow to Gülenists and secular nationalists alike was a common agenda of the Kurds and the AKP.
Erdogan secured 46% of the vote but must now strive to build on this especially if he is to succeed in the presidential elections. An alliance with the BDP is a seemingly logical step for both sides.
The BDP (and their sister party HDP) mustered just over 6% of the vote having won 3 metropolitan municipalities, 8 provinces and 66 districts.
Kurds represent a signifiant portion of the elctroate and between those that voted for AKP and the BDP, a coming together to support Erdogan‘s candidacy will almost certainly tip the scales favourably.
If an understanding on a peace package can be reached, imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan may give his crucial endorsement to Erdogan. Such an indirect alliance would not only speak volumes on how far the Kurds have progressed but also on the leverage that Ocalan and the PKK continue to hold.
However, the Kurdish support at this critical and defining tenure for Erdogan will not come at a cheap price.
The BDP leadership have warned that support of Erdogan is not a foregone conclusion with the expectation that concrete steps will be taken on the peace process.
Kurds expect the AKP to build on the positive but ultimately insufficient reform package announced last year. The prize of the Kurds is local autonomy and there has never been a better time to achieve this.
The abolition of anti-terror laws that discrimanted Kurds, local adminstraive powers, changes in the penal code, release of Kurdish detainees and improvement in the prison condition of Ocalan will be high on the list of demands.
All this will not be easy to achieve and early post-election rhetoric from Erdogan has created an element of doubt but Turkey has made significant strides that were once unthinkable.
If Erdogan and his government fail to deliver tangible results on the peace process, not only will this greatly dilute future Kurdish vote for the AKP but risk a continuation of war with the PKK.
Erdogan has a base to build on, but he can ill-afford to create enemeies from too many sides. His opponents will surely lick their wounds, regroup and fight another day and Erdogan has to juggle cross-national sentiments carefully. He clearly needs the Kurdish vote but can he apease the ever-expectant Kurds and at the same time not alientate the nationalist circles by been perceived as selling out to Ocalan?
It wasnt just Kurds on the Turkish didide that had a vested interest in a strong showing for Erdogan and the AKP. The Kurdistan Region whose current ties with Turkey is a far-cry from several years ago can take renewed confidence on the dozens of contract signed, strategic ties with Ankara and the vital agreement for export of Kurdish oil.