The June 7 elections to Turkey’s Grand National Assembly are shaping up to be the most important in a long time. The bold decision of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) to run as a party and strive to exceed the grossly undemocratic 10% threshold needed to win representation in parliament has put the group at the political centre stage.
Although its key support base lies in the oppressed Kurdish community, the HDP is reaching out to all those oppressed, exploited and discriminated against across the country. This includes women, workers, the Alevi religious community, Armenians, Assyrians and LGBTI people.
Support for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has clearly slipped since the 2011 elections. The AKP will almost certainly gain the most seats, but the HDP's rise will deny it any chance of the super-majority needed to unilaterally amend the constitution through parliament.
AKP leader Recip Tayyip Erdogan, the country’s supposedly impartial president, wants to establish a dictatorial executive presidency. This ambition appears to be doomed.
Poll shows AKP woes
The Gezici Research firm is one of Turkey's most reputable polling organisations. It was the most accurate in predicting the results of last year’s municipal and presidential elections, as well as the recent northern Cyprus presidential vote (a setback for Erdogan).
Its April 29 poll illustrates the AKP’s woes. If the election had been held then, only 38.1% said they would vote for the AKP, a huge decline from the almost 50% it won in 2011. The biggest factor appears to be increasing economic hardship. The poll put the HDP’s support at a threshold-breaking 11%.
The Kurdish community makes up about 20% of the electorate. It is neither socially nor politically homogeneous. In 2011, an estimated half of Kurdish voters opted for the AKP and about 35% for the HDP's electoral predecessor. Disillusionment with Erdogan has seen many Kurds turn away from the AKP, mostly to the HDP. About 80% of the HDP’s recent gains come from the AKP.
The biggest factor here is anger at Erdogan’s naked hostility to the Kurdish upsurge in northern Syria and his government’s scarcely concealed support for the murderous “Islamic State” forces during the September-January siege of Kobanê. Also, the supposed peace process with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and its jailed leader Abdullah Öcalan is now seen by many Kurds to have been nothing more than a manoeuvre by Erdogan.
In April 2013, the PKK, which waged a decades-long armed struggle against the Turkish state, declared a unilateral ceasefire and began withdrawing its armed forces to bases in northern Iraq. The bloody civil war appeared to have ended. The PKK has sought to negotiate a solution to the long-standing “Kurdish question”.
But either Erdogan never intended to seriously engage in negotiations or else has dumped them in his bid to gain untrammelled power. The army has staged a series of provocative operations against guerilla areas within Turkey designed to provoke the PKK into responding militarily. So far, the PKK has refused to fall into this trap.
Erdogan has repeatedly sought to scare voters by linking the HDP to the PKK and raising the spectre of a resumption of the armed insurgency. The “peace negotiations”, such as they were, have been suspended.
Religion has also long been a weapon of the AKP. The shameless Erdogan has now taken to appearing at election rallies waving a Koran.
On May 18, simultaneous bomb blasts hit HDP offices in the southern towns of Adana and Mersin. No one was killed, but some party workers were injured. There have been more than 60 attacks against HDP offices across the country.
“It is the AKP government that has pressed the button to launch these attacks,” HDP Co-President Figen Yuksekdag said. “All democratic forces should unite to halt these attacks and guarantee election security. Instead of opposing these assaults, the prime minister and president have targeted us in their speeches at election rallies. We hold the president and PM as primarily responsible for these attacks…
“They are trying to create tension in order to generate conflict, but our party organisation, candidates and party workers will continue the campaign in a sensible way. We will achieve a great triumph on June 7, which is what they fear.”
In Erdogan’s Turkey, dissent is under attack. Critical journalists have been harassed and several jailed. The judiciary is also in the cross-hairs, with independent judges and prosecutors being sidelined or replaced.
This raises the question of just how clean the elections will be. The Supreme Election Council (YSK) does not inspire much confidence. Also, the president is supposed to be above party politics, but Erdogan blatantly campaigns for the AKP. The HDP has repeatedly complained to the YSK about this but has gotten nowhere.
The HDP's main defence against dirty tricks is to exceed the 10% threshold by the biggest possible margin. Every vote will count.
The HDP vote in the big Turkish-Kurdish diaspora will be critical. Anyone with Turkish citizenship can vote. In Australia, HDP supporters are campaigning to maximise the turnout and ensure it is fair.