The Kurdish vote

The Kurdish vote is at the heart of Turkeyand’s upcoming June 7 parliamentary election. Only a short time ago, this would have been unthinkable.
The future of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) depends on two key issues. While the first is related to the estimated 15 percent of the Turkish electorate that has not yet decided where to place their vote, the second is the Kurds. For the first time, the Kurds are running in the election as a party — the Peoplesand’ Democratic Party (HDP) — rather than, as in previous elections, individuals who form a bloc once inside Parliament. While this could be considered risky because of the 10 percent threshold — the worldand’s highest — that needs to be passed to enter Parliament, the Kurds have never been better placed than they are today to achieving this goal, which could reshape Turkeyand’s political landscape.
The HDP have a very popular co-chair, Selahattin Demirtai, who is charismatic and smart. Demirtai has bolstered the chances of the HDP by adopting a range of policies that are sympathetic to the left. The HDP has also sought to broaden its base beyond its Kurdish core support by promoting free speech and the rights of women and minorities. Additionally, it has stated categorically that it will oppose the AKPand’s attempts to change the political system to an executive presidency, as demanded by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Portions of the electorate that would never have dreamed of supporting the HDP are believed to be considering voting for them. I have met many people, including Turkish intellectuals, who have told me that they are planning to vote strategically — meaning they will vote for the HDP instead of their usual choice in order the help the HDP get into Parliament. While the AKP is expected to take the most votes, by getting into Parliament the HDP should weaken the AKP. If the main opposition Republican Peopleand’s Party (CHP) and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) are also able to increase their percentages, this will further weaken the power of the AKP, hopefully reverse the authoritarian trend of the AKP and bring Turkey back to a more democratic path. An increasing number of polls estimate that the HDP will pass the threshold. Still, the HDP seems to prefer to play this down and rather send the message that they are not there yet and need more support, in order to continue to rally voters.
The AKP has been losing votes to the HDP for a number of reasons. First, because the latter is now viewed as pro-peace by the AKPand’s Kurdish voters. Second, although Erdogan was the first Turkish leader to try to negotiate a peace deal with Abdullah andOcalan, the imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workersand’ Party (PKK), in a bid to win the Turkish nationalist vote he has had a sharp change of narrative, basically going from talking about peace to labeling the HDP a and”group of terroristsand” who ought to be barred from entering Parliament. He has also gone from being the first Turkish leader to openly state there was a Kurdish problem to saying there is no Kurdish problem.
Not surprisingly, a link has been made between Erdoganand’s belligerent narrative and the attacks — now over 120 — against HDP offices throughout the country. Furthermore, many Kurds who traditionally voted for the AKP have switched to the HDP because of allegations that the government backed Islamic State (IS) jihadists against Syriaand’s Kurds in the battle for Kobani. Furthermore, Kurdish identity has never been stronger than it is today.
Unfortunately, due to the complex nature of Turkeyand’s electoral system, if the HDP fails to pass the threshold, the AKP would receive a huge boost as it would take over the seats the HDP would have won in the Kurdish-majority east and Southeast, because the AKP is their only rival there. While given current polling this might not result in the AKP getting a super majority, it could still take a simple 276 seat majority, allowing it to continue as a single-party government.
However, this is unlikely to be the end of the story because of serious concerns over election fraud. If the HDP misses the threshold by a whisker, the legitimacy of the election will be called into question. This risks increasing tensions in the Southeast and further undermining the Kurdish peace process, which is already in trouble.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman