TURKEY: Censorship, repression rob Kurds of representation
BY NORM DIXON
Prior to Turkey's November 3 general election, polls indicated that the radical Democratic Peoples Party (DEHAP) looked set to cross the 10% threshold necessary for parliamentary representation. However, media censorship, state repression and vote-rigging suppressed DEHAP's vote to 6.2%.
DEHAP was formed when several national left-wing parties including the Party of Labour (EMEP) and respected human rights activist Akin Birdal's Socialist Democratic Party joined forces with the Kurdish-based Peoples Democratic Party (HADEP). DEHAP was formed after Turkey's state prosecutor had blocked HADEP candidates from taking part in the election.
Despite scoring sweeping majorities in some cases of up to 90% throughout the Turkey's Kurdish-populated south-east, DEHAP did not win any seats in the 550-seat parliament. Because DEHAP failed to win 10% of the Turkey-wide vote, the Kurdish constituencies were reallocated to the candidates of the only two parties that achieved the 10% threshold. DEHAP was sixth highest vote-getter of the 19 parties that contested the election.
An indication of DEHAP's massive support was its huge election rallies. In an election campaign in which even the winning parties were rarely able to summon more than 10,000 people to their rallies, DEHAP stunned the country in the final week of the election campaign by mobilising almost one million people across the country.
The largest rally took place in Istanbul, outside Turkey's south-east, on October 29. Up to 400,000 Kurds and working-class Turks rallied in support of DEHAP's opposition to the implementation of International Monetary Fund imposts, against the looming US war on Iraq and for a democratic restructuring of the country.
Despite the massive size of the rallies, there was no mention of them in the Turkish press, TV or radio due to the systematic censorship that was applied to DEHAP's campaign. Throughout the election period, the party received virtually no coverage in the newspapers and less than 1% of total TV and radio broadcast time.
A British delegation of trade unionists recently returned from north Kurdistan (Turkey's south-west) reported on October 28 that, after meeting fellow trade unionists and civil rights organisations, they were "shocked and angered by the intense level of repression that ordinary people continue to face... An immediate concern was the fair conduct of the forthcoming elections."
The delegation reported that DEHAP activists were being harassed and prevented from canvassing, particularly in the villages. Villagers faced severe intimidation from Turkish security forces and "village guards" state-sponsored militia who warned that if even one vote for DEHAP was cast, their village would be destroyed.
There were widespread reports of local DEHAP candidates being arrested and party workers being beaten by security forces. Some had sustained very serious injuries leading to hospitalisation, the British trade unionists were informed.
These tactics continued on polling day. DEHAP reported that grave violations occurred on November 3 throughout the Kurdish south-west and in Turkey's major cities, where millions of Kurds driven from the land now live.
There were many reports of voters being denied the right to a secret ballot and of rival candidates, in league with security forces and village guards, seizing ballot boxes. Violence against DEHAP poll workers was common; many were detained on the day.
The overall election result was a disaster for Turkey's ruling coalition government, reflecting the Turkish people's deep disenchantment with its economic policies. All the ruling parties failed to achieve the 10% threshold for parliamentary seats. The ultra-nationalist Nationalist Action Party (MHP) slumped to 8.36% of the national vote (down from 18% in 1999), the Motherland Party (ANAP) received 5.13% of the vote (down from 13.2%) and Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit's misnamed Democratic Left Party received a humiliating 1.23% (down from 22%).
The pro-Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) won an outright majority of seats with 34.5% of the national vote. The Republican Peoples Party (CHP) scored 19.5%. No other party crossed the 10% threshold.
AKP leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan who was not allowed to stand for parliament because the Turkish state accused him of being an Islamic fundamentalist said on November 4 that he had left his Islamist past behind and the AKP government's first priority would be to be admitted to the European Union. The AKP is formally opposed to Washington's planned war on Iraq.
From Green Left Weekly, November 13, 2002.
Visit the Green Left Weekly home page.