HDP on cusp of history in Turkey’s elections but price of failure remains high
For many years, the Kurds suffered a choice of the Kurdistan Workers Party’s (PKK) armed struggle and the repressive policies of successive governments. For the dozens of Kurdish political parties, allegations of been a voice of the PKK and Turkey’s harsh security laws, saw them quickly shut down.
Now ahead of historic general elections on 7th June, the Kurds latest political incarnation, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) led by Selahattin Demirtaş, not only strives to pass the elusive 10 percent election threshold that has so often blighted Kurdish parties but extend its support base to become a Turkish party that is representative of a wide range of groups and not just Kurds.
HDP’s quest to enter parliament as a party and not via the traditional independent candidate route, is seen by many as a gamble but it also demonstrates the growing confidence of the party.
Even as Kurds represent a large section of the population, the 10% threshold has been hard to breach. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) have worked effectively to split the Kurdish vote in previous elections, especially from Islamist and conservative circles.
Then there are those Kurds who were greatly discouraged by voting for any Kurdish party who would ultimately fail to break the threshold and thus lose their votes and voice.
Couple with Kurdish fallout over Ankara’s stance on the struggle of the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobane under a fierce Islamic State (IS) onslaught, the stalling of the Kurdish peace process, HDP’s broader manifesto and the prospect that HDP will enter parliament, the Kurdish voter base has become rich pickings.
Amidst the backdrop of the campaign to become a truly Turkish party, another key HDP battle ground has been the West of Turkey. The focus has been on displaying an image of a libertarian leftist party and capitalizing on disaffected and disenfranchised voters growing uneasy with the AKP or nationalist alternatives, especially appealing to Gezi protestors.
Demirtaş 9.7% of the vote in the presidential elections is deemed as a measure that HDP influence is growing.
As a party of the voice of marginalized, HDP has an appeal and a larger electorate including that of numer- ous other minorities. It is an alternative to the Kemalist Republican People’s Party (CHP) or the Rightwing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), but the key test is whether it can must enough of these non-Kurdish votes, even if it successfully navigates the 10% threshold.
If it remains a Kurdish voice and a party of the Kurdish region, then it will struggle to escape the PKK stigma.
Such is the significance that the 10% of HDP vote may bring that the election campaign has pitted them in constant confrontation with the AKP.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has made no secret of his desire to rewrite the constitution after the elections, has traded frequent harsh rhetoric with Demirtaş. At the same time, Demirtaş has been equally clear that once in parliament he will be an obstacle to AKP goals and policies.
Then there are the bombings of HDP offices in May and in recent days a deadly double bombing at a HDP rally in Diyarbakir that killed or wounded dozens.
The bombings are a reminder of the nationalist camps in Turkey that aim stir violence and keep the south-eastern question as an armed struggle calculus, and then there are Kurds who are skeptical at the prospects of true peace and Kurdish rights through parliament.
If the HDP does breakthrough the threshold, it would empower their position as interlocutors in the peace-process. It will also give them a true platform to extend their gains.
On the flip side, if HDP fails to achieve this target, there are significant repercussions. Millions of votes would have lost their voice in parliament leading to further unrest, the Kurdish peace process may become sidelined or diluted and HDP would see their seats giving to the next largest party, most likely the AKP.
The AKP have vowed that the peace process will pursue regardless of the HDP in parliament. But whether it’s a change in constitution or peace with the PKK, without opposition in parliament, the AKP will have an unhindered path.
In either case, AKP is likely to muster a strong portion of the vote again and this will increase fractures with opposing political and ideological camps.