Any chance of dis­plac­ing Turkey’s in­cum­bent pres­i­dent on June 24 de­pends on win­ning over the east

The National - News - - NEWS WORLD - AN­DREW WILKS Ankara

The main chal­lenger to in­cum­bent Turk­ish pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan is on a ma­jor charm of­fen­sive to win the cru­cial Kur­dish vote in the east of the coun­try.

At a rally in Di­yarbakir in the south-east on Mon­day, Muhar­rem Ince promised thou­sands that he would re­solve the Kur­dish is­sue and in­tro­duce the lan­guage into schools.

To have any chance of an up­set vic­tory in the June 24 elec­tion, the Re­pub­li­can Peo­ple’s Party (CHP) can­di­date needs the sup­port of the Kurds – a once un­think­able sit­u­a­tion for a Turk­ish na­tion­al­ist party. But the huge turnout in the coun­try’s largest Kur­dish-ma­jor­ity city sug­gests Mr Ince could be suc­ceed­ing.

“No CHP leader be­fore could have such a huge meet­ing in Di­yarbakir,” Hisyar Oz­soy, a vice-chair­man of the Kur­dish-fo­cused Peo­ples’ Demo­cratic Party (HDP), said. “We get about 80 per cent of the lo­cal vote there.”

The CHP has long been as­so­ci­ated in Kur­dish minds with un­der­min­ing their as­pi­ra­tions in an at­tempt to en­force a pan-Turk­ish iden­tity. But with the elec­tion loom­ing, op­po­si­tion sup­port­ers are look­ing to the best-placed can­di­date to take on Mr Er­do­gan in a runoff vote if – as polls in­di­cate – he fails to se­cure more than 50 per cent in the first round.

Kurds make up about a fifth of Turkey’s 80 mil­lion pop­u­la­tion and to have a chance of win­ning the elec­tion, a se­cond-round can­di­date would need their back­ing.

“The Kurds have the most po­lit­i­cally in­formed minds in Turkey and Ince must be able to get a big pro­por­tion of HDP vot­ers,” said Ozer Sen­car, head of polling com­pany Metropoll.

On Wed­nes­day, HDP co-leader Sezai Temelli called for an op­po­si­tion pact should the vote go to a run-off on July 8.

“It’s ei­ther Er­do­gan or democ­racy,” he told in­de­pen­dent news site T24.

As the clos­est chal­lenger to Mr Er­do­gan, Mr Ince, a for­mer physics teacher, is the most likely to face him. “If Er­do­gan can­not win in the first round, most likely Muhar­rem Ince will be the se­cond can­di­date be­cause he’s scored well in the polls,” Mr Oz­soy said.

“We will be dis­cussing what to do if the se­cond round comes. Ince is try­ing to com­mu­ni­cate with the Kur­dish pop­u­la­tion with sym­bolic demon­stra­tions.”

Aside from pledges given in Di­yarbakir, these demon­stra­tions in­clude vis­it­ing the HDP pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Se­la­hat­tin Demir­tas in prison, call­ing for his re­lease and stress­ing his ear­lier op­po­si­tion to the re­moval of im­mu­nity for par­lia­men­tary deputies – a law that was backed by most CHP deputies and led to Mr Demir­tas and other HDP politi­cians be­ing jailed.

Mr Ince has also com­mit­ted him­self to rep­re­sent all Turk­ish cit­i­zens, sym­bol­i­cally re­mov­ing his party badge at the start of the cam­paign.

“For the first time, Turkey has a two-round elec­tion and it’s in­ter­est­ing to see how it will play out,” said Se­lim Koru, an an­a­lyst at the Eco­nomic Pol­icy Re­search Foun­da­tion of Turkey. “Ince is the can­di­date of the largest op­po­si­tion party and is try­ing to po­si­tion him­self as the strong­est can­di­date of the ‘Not Er­do­gan’ camp. He’s try­ing to ap­peal to two poles – the left­ist/HDP pole and the con­ser­va­tive na­tion­al­ists. He needs to com­bine these to be suc­cess­ful.”

The op­po­si­tion is also hop­ing the HDP will pass the 10 per cent thresh­old in the si­mul­ta­ne­ous par­lia­men­tary elec­tion. This would re­duce the chances of Mr Er­do­gan’s Jus­tice and De­vel­op­ment Party (AKP) and the Na­tion­al­ist Ac­tion Party (MHP) ally achiev­ing a ma­jor­ity.

If the HDP does not pass the thresh­old, most of its votes will be re­dis­tributed to the AKP, the se­cond-best sup­ported party in the south-east, giv­ing it about 80 more seats.

This di­vi­sion among Kur­dish vot­ers be­tween the HDP and the AKP is of­ten por­trayed as a split be­tween sec­u­lar left­ists and pi­ous con­ser­va­tives. But this is an over­sim­pli­fi­ca­tion.

“Many peo­ple who are sup­port­ing the AKP are just vot­ing for the state – it’s about re­sources, busi­ness con­tracts and cli­en­tism,” Mr Oz­soy said. “In the past, the AKP had some ide­o­log­i­cal ground and sup­port but now they don’t.

“Peo­ple don’t see the AKP as an Is­lamist party but a na­tion­al­ist one be­cause of the na­tion­al­ist stance and the al­liance with the MHP.”

As well as the elec­toral al­liance, the AKP has launched of­fen­sives against Kur­dish mil­i­tants in Iraq and Syria, shelled Kur­dish cities in Turkey as it bat­tled the Kur­dis­tan Work­ers’ Party and ar­rested HDP of­fi­cials, Kur­dish may­ors and jour­nal­ists.

“The AKP in the re­gion is los­ing votes to the HDP be­cause of its ag­gres­sive anti-Kur­dish stance and peo­ple are quite mo­ti­vated to teach him [Mr Er­do­gan] a les­son,” Mr Oz­soy said.

Whether this les­son is enough to ben­e­fit a for­mer teacher will de­ter­mine who is Turkey’s next leader.


Sup­port­ers of CHP pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Muhar­rem Ince at a Di­yarbakir rally on Mon­day


Muhar­rem Ince, the Re­pub­li­can Peo­ple’s Party can­di­date, is go­ing head-to-head with Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan

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