HDP Kürkçü: Future of Turkish democracy at stake in 24 June elections

HDP Kürkçü: Future of Turkish democracy at stake in 24 June elections


On Sunday the peoples of Turkey will go to the polls in one of the elections most unfair and uneven ever held in the 150 years of Turkey’s elections history.

We discussed of the meaning of these parliamentary early elections, and the presidential elections with HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party) Izmir deputy, Ertuğrul Kürkçü.


Given the strengthening of repressive policies both in the police-military and in the judicial institutions, we are far from a democratic system. As regards the elections specifically, what guarantees can we expect?


The 24 June elections are one of the most unfair, unequal, unjust and uneven elections ever held throughout 150 years of Turkey’s election history. Everything that had been considered as fraud or a systemic vulnerability for fraud in past elections has gained the force of law following amendments in the elections law on the eve of these snap elections: four of the seats in the seven-person ballot box committees have be taken into the control of the existing regime – the committee chair and the vice chair will be appointed by the district sub-governors (kaymakams) alongside two seats spared for Erdoğan’s AKP and its ally the MHP -a real threat for fair voting and counting in areas where the opposition parties are not well organized. According to the amendment, ballot paper envelopes will be considered valid albeit they do not bear the ballot box committees’ stamp -a gross contradiction with the previous clause in the law which restricts the validity of the envelopes to that particular stamp; the police and other security officers are empowered to enter the voting zones notwithstanding the special invitation by the committee chairs. Recent video footage showing Erdoğan at a closed meeting advising his ‘accomplices’ on the best tactics for electoral fraud leaves no doubt that the 24 June elections are already infected with the most shameful directions from the head of state.


The HDP and the other opposition parties are also suffering from a shameless media embargo under a de facto ban by Erdoğan. According to Transparency International in May, the public media channel TRT allotted a total of 147 minutes to the AKP, 25 minutes to the main opposition party CHP, 25 minutes to the AKP ally MHP, 14 minutes to the MHP-split İYİ Parti  and zero for the HDP! And of course the same applies for Demirtaş. But most despicably, Erdoğan has recently speeded up his slander campaign against Demirtaş, accusing him of the loss of more than 50 lives during the 2014 protests against the siege of Kobane and adding insult to injury by calling for his execution – remarkably, Turkey abolished the death penalty 20 years ago now, while Demirtaş has never been indicted for involvement in the Kobane disturbances; no need to mention other deputies and thousands of HDP workers and officials who are already jailed across the country.


Nevertheless, the HDP election campaign, in spite of the daily harassment, persecution and attacks across the country, unfolds like a peoples’ festival in the urban centers as well as in all the provinces of Kurdistan. The HDP strives to overcome the mainstream media embargo via creative and systematic social media campaigns. The most significant change in the electoral discourse is that Tayyip Erdoğan has lost his favourite trump card of being the one aggrieved to his most fearful rival Demirtaş: the popular conscience is now on Demirtaş’s side and not on Erdoğan’s. The major incentive for both the HDP and the opposition in general to dare participate in these fraudulent and unfair snap elections is the expectation that, fed up with Erdoğan’s arbitrary and draconian rule, the Kurdish and Turkish peoples will flood the ballot boxes to clear the way for an Erdoğan-free future: Give the HDP the 10% vote and free yourself from Erdoğan’s Sultanate. The public has already got the message!


Why did Erdoğan call early elections? The consolidation of the Erdoğan era had a lot to do with a cycle of economic growth, but at present the symptoms are of a situation of crisis and near-recession in Turkey. To what extent can the economic situation affect the voters?


The basic motive behind the “very early” election was the government’s desperate need to escape from the negative consequences of the economic and financial meltdown anticipated to hit Turkey in late 2018 or early 2019. Erdoğan was optimistic that he could manage to improve the situation with further ‘artificial’ growth promoting measures. However, since the political meltdown of Erdoğan’s crutch – meaning his MHP’s support in the polls – was much faster than that of the overall economic meltdown, the veteran MHP fascist pushed his ally from behind for early elections in order to save his political future. Erdoğan responded with calling very early elections -a wishful tactic to pull the opposition into the “ambush” while sidelining Devlet Bahçeli.


However, the opposition parties were more than prepared for snap elections. The indicators for a worsening economy were already there and heatedly discussed during the 2018 budgetary debate in the parliament. The opposition converged on the opinion that the “groundbreaking” 7.4 % growth in 2017 was ‘artificial’: it basically stemmed from unparalleled government subsidies, tax reductions and other financial incentives and it was “relative”: achieved with the negative growth of 2016 in the background.


Government had expected that providing super profit opportunities for business would yield new jobs, but in 2017-18 the real youth unemployment figures hit over 20 percent, the inflation rate soared to two digit figures, the estimated annual current account deficit rose up to USD 57. 8 billion -a major concern for foreign creditors. The opposition also converged around the opinion that the sharp decrease in foreign capital influx was rather more related with Erdoğan’s increasingly arbitrary and authoritarian rule and his ideologically motivated interventions on the Central Bank than his claims of a “united western plot against rising Islamic leader”- which all together yielded an “unpredictable” political and economic picture of Turkey.


The HDP further criticized the 2018 budget as a “war budget”. The security and military expenditure in order to sustain the war on the Kurdish insurgency and keep emergency rule going, all these together imposed a net 70-80 billion TL burden on the budget.  Moreover, the unproductive and lavish state expenditures on nuclear power plants, coal mining, highways and bridges wasted public economic resources merely to fund Erdoğan’s crony’s construction, mining and energy companies, which produced no added value and in addition has ruined the ecology.


All in all the snap elections were imposed in order to save the government from the impact of the impending economic meltdown but overall, AKP policies now only coalesce into a downward spiral for Erdoğan and his dreams of a post-modern autocracy.


In order to gain access to the Parliament, the HDP, once again, have to overcome the 10% threshold.  What kind of alliances and pacts has the HDP made to secure this? What would be the main issues on the agenda for the next four years?


Our major goal is to stop Erdoğan and rebuff his final leap towards a Turkish-style dictatorship. The HDP, alongside the general opposition, is insistent on reclaiming the separation of powers; however the positive aspect of our election platform is our political proposal to “refound the republic on a democratic basis with extended powers for local governments.”


The two rival establishment blocks the “Popular Alliance” -comprising Erdoğan’s AKP, pro-fascist MHP and another fascist faction BBP- and the “Nation Alliance” comprising the main opposition nationalist social democrat CHP, the MHP-split İYİ Parti and the İslamist SP- campaign for “restoration” – firstly, for the restoration of Ottomanism, then for the Republic as such- with, of course, vague pledges for “brotherhood”; whereas the HDP campaigns for refounding the country in the form of  “a democratic republic based on democratic autonomy for the provinces and the regions”, that is a radical democratic step forward for a new political framework to meet Kurdish demands for self-government and thus help facilitate the solution of the Kurdish Question through peaceful means.


In our opinion there is a major political difference between the two blocks.


The ruling coalition of the “Popular Alliance” [Cumhur İttifakı] is politically, a united front of Turkey’s extreme-right; racist, fascist, jihadist, anti-Kurd, anti-left, anti-feminist, anti-social forces and elements who already hang on to all levels of power in Turkey and are responsible for the ongoing and brutal hegemony exercised by the leadership of Tayyip Erdoğan as well as for the collapse of the secular state and for emergency rule, war and dictatorship.


Whereas the rival block of “The Nation Alliance” [Millet İttifakı] is based on concerns to counter the “Popular Alliance” by bringing the establishment opposition parties together in order to share the benefits of the amended electoral system which benefits the alliances more than individual parties. The “Nation Alliance” parties lack a coherent common program but they, in contrast to the “Popular Alliance” parties categorically reject Erdoğan’s presidential rule, and urgently call for the immediate return to a parliamentary system based on the separation of powers and the rule of law as well as calling for progress in achieving the EU membership criteria.


The challenge posed by the “Nation Alliance” vis-a-vis the “Popular Alliance” amounts to an objective counterweight against Erdoğan’s quest for a totalitarian state. Popular support for the alliance’s leading party (CHP)’s presidential candidate Muharrem Ince is on the rise, and his outspoken criticism of Erdoğan’s transgressions and corruption is welcomed by broader sections of the people. This brings the “Nation Alliance” into alignment with the democratic and social opposition forces.


Therefore, in spite of our reservations and criticisms of the MHP-split İYİ Parti, and for the wide gap between the Kurdish demands vis-a-vis the CHP’s perception of  the ongoing conflict, we refrain from a pejorative discourse and a negative campaign against the “Nation Alliance”. We further strive to build up confidence and closer relations between our own voter base and that of the CHP, particularly among the working class, the urban poor, youth, women and Alevites as well as the Kurdish grassroots.


On foreign policy matters the HDP urges a halt to the Turkish establishment’s expansionist ambitions and territorial claims and a withdrawal of Turkey’s armed forces out of neighboring countries, end the occupation of Afrin and the ambitions of occupying Northern Iraq; resolve all ongoing disputes with neighboring countries through negotiation; and we expect to cooperate with Greece to find the best settlement in the interest of the environment and the people concerning the disputes in the Aegean and the Mediterranean. The HDP supports the European working classes fight for a “social Europe”.


What makes your presidential candidate, Selahattin Demirtaş a candidate who could actually go to the second round?


Our basic electoral target is to maximize our voter support, that is, to overcome the 10 percent election barrier and add at least 3 extra points on to the November 2015 election results, while campaigning for Selahattin Demirtaş to stand in the second round. If achieved, these results would declare the end of Tayyip Erdoğan’s rule. For the second round of the presidential elections we will have two more weeks after 24 June in order to formulate the best tactics. We have to see who will be the first and second candidates and there is no reason why Demirtaş would not be one of the protagonists.

Actually, Demirtaş and the HDP comprise a single whole. His personal talents and charm adds further voter attraction to the mass following of the HDP and reinforces confidence in the party and the Kurdish masses among the young urban Turkish voters. His unjust and unfair incarceration also draws the popular conscience on his and the HDP’s side.


The future of Turkey’s democracy hinges around the HDP’s success in overcoming the 10% national election barrier. Due to the particularities of Turkey’s present electoral system the AKP-MHP “Popular Alliance” will be ousted from power should the HDP pass the 10% barrier but they will gain at least 70 extra chairs and gain a landslide victory should the HDP remain at the threshold.


The HDP has become the key element for the future of Turkey and for the outcome of the 24 June elections: will Turkey fully fall into the hands of an authoritarian-sectarian state or put itself back on track for a democratic takeover, the answer to this question mainly depends on the HDP’s electoral success.


Very possibly, Erdoğan will not refrain from resorting to any measure to divert the popular opposition from participating in the elections. Already, district election committees in Kurdistan, for so-called security concerns, have made proposals for transferring ballot boxes from their natural environment, where the HDP is the major party, to neighboring zones with a bigger AKP following. In the forthcoming days we may witness further applications with similar concerns for combining even greater electoral zones while Erdoğan advocates for a broader military campaign on PKK forces in Northern Iraq.


And the major instrument in Erdoğan’s hand is Article 116 of the Turkish Constitution. It reads: “In the case of the president deciding to recall elections the parliamentary and presidential elections are hold simultaneously.” An unrivaled Erdoğan relying on this arbitrarily granted constitutional power may challenge election results depending on his personal will and without any formal precondition. Erdoğan’s advisors have already triggered a public debate suggesting Erdoğan will campaign for a follow-up snap election to ensure “political stability” should the parliamentary majority go to the opposition and Erdoğan remain in the presidency.


Nevertheless, whatever methods and tricks he may resort to, Erdoğan is on a downward spiral, and approaching his end, in the very near future he will be dispensed of in the “museum of indispensable figures.”


Two events (out of several) of significance have marked the last two years of this term. The coup attempt of 15 July and the narrow approval for the referendum. How would you assess this period in Turkey?


The basic outcome resulting from the 15 July 2016 coup attempt is that, Erdoğan has been empowered with Emergency Rule and with the right to rule the country with decrees. Yet the state of emergency has lost all its relevancy and legitimacy -if it had any- in relation to the attempted coup.


The parliamentary opposition parties, the HDP -my party– and the main opposition CHP- had voted against the declaration of a state of emergency at the time, and the HDP staunchly opposed derogations from Article 15 of the European Convention on Human Rights which we believed would give the Erdoğan regime the power and opportunity to undermine all democratic institutions and erode what was left of the separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary in particular. I would like to recall Erdoğan’s summarizing the meaning of the 15 July failed coup: “This is a gift from God for us!”


We need to recognise that Erdoğan and his allies put a lot of hard work into deserving this “gift”. It is still unclear where, and when and how and by what means Erdoğan and his aides were informed of the coup preparations and how and through which mechanisms they decided to react to the coup. According to analysts, witnesses, documents leaked from the prosecutors’ offices, and inconsistencies in Erdoğan’s personal narrative of the attempted coup, Erdoğan’s regime was well informed of the coup preparations which they initially and informally related to the Gülen Sect’s expected reaction against the liquidation of pro-Gülen army officials, judges and police officers. It is highly symptomatic in this sense that, 2,735 judges were sacked from office early in the morning of the 16 July. How come the government could have targeted thousands of judges for a military coup attempt they claim they were unaware of until it was implemented? It is also highly symptomatic that the AKP majority have banned the parliament’s commission of inquiry from questioning all major responsible political and military personalities in order to lay out an impartial narrative of the coup and of the roles played by the major actors: The Gülen movement, Erdoğan and his Party, the Army, the Police, the Judiciary, etc.


Thus,  emergency rule in Turkey appears to be not only a reaction by the government against an abortive coup but also a planned and engineered state of affairs; a leverage to be exploited in order to lay down the foundations of a state of emergency.


Emergency rule in Turkey has been renewed for seven three month periods, the last time in April. During the 22 months since its declaration the Turkish government has used the draconian powers granted under the state of emergency to bypass the parliament and to issue decrees for every purpose: from education to tourism, from prison regulations to export regulations! Under emergency rule Turkey has been transformed into a state under a permanent state of emergency.


Erdoğan’s rule also exploited the state of emergency in order to bring war on the Kurdish municipalities and on our party, to purge the administration and civil services of tens of thousands of dissidents, to dump thousands of HDP activists and many deputies including co-chairs Demirtaş and Yüksekdağ in jail, pass scores of repressive laws and constitutional amendments in order to pave the way for a totalitarian dictatorship. The HDP during these three years has concentrated its efforts on preserving contacts with the people, repairing the organizational damage, keeping the parliamentary opposition on track and building alliances with the democratic and social resistance forces.


Then came the 16 April referendum…


The 16 April constitutional referendum was designed as the culmination of Erdoğan’s preparations for taking over the country under his own personal rule through the popular vote. The amendments were basically aimed at transferring political power from the parliament to the executive and transferring the power of the  executive from the parliament to the presidency and furthermore, at practically abolishing the separation of powers and tying the judiciary and the armed forces directly to the president while transferring the power of budgeting from the parliament to the president.


According to the report by the election observation committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of The Council of Europe the referendum took place on an “unlevel playing field” and the two sides -”yes” and “no”- of the campaign did not have equal opportunities. Voters were not provided with impartial information about key aspects of the reform, and civil society organisations were not able to participate. Under the state of emergency fundamental freedoms essential to a genuinely democratic process were curtailed. The dismissal or detention of thousands of citizens negatively affected the political environment. The “Yes” campaign’s dominance in the media coverage as well as restrictions on the media reduced voters’ access to a plurality of views. While the technical aspects of the referendum were well administered and referendum day took place in an orderly manner, late changes in counting procedures removed an important safeguard and were contested by the opposition.


The campaign framework was restrictive, and the campaign imbalanced due to the active involvement of the President and several leading national officials, as well as many local public officials, in the ‘Yes’ campaign.


The ‘No’ campaign was predominantly conducted by the main opposition parties CHP and HDP, with the latter significantly crippled in its ability to campaign given that hundreds of its party members remained behind bars, including its co-chairpersons and 83 HDP mayors.


In non-diplomatic terms, one can simply say that the people were forced by the state to vote “Yes”, and when the “No” vote overwhelmed the “Yes” vote the Higher Council of Elections declared that the unvalidated ballots too would be counted valid -an unprecedented election scandal. 16 April was a fraudulent referendum, and the popular protest was disarmed and pulled back from the streets by the main opposition CHP leader Kılıçdaroğlu. The CHP’s later appeal to the Constitutional Court was turned down by the court.


The State continues to respond to the claims of the Kurds in Turkey with a constant violation of their rights and with intense repression. What real hopes are there that this can change and dialogue and negotiation predominate (in the case of Erdoğan’s victory)?


Erdoğan’s possible victory leaves no reasonable expectation for dialogue and negotiation, for he has to satisfy the demands and expectations of the fascist coalition with whose support he may succeed in ascending to power on a very narrow margin. The political outcome of the combination of the differing perspectives and policies in the makeup of Erdoğan’s Popular Alliance, in terms of the Kurdish conflict, boils down to the “extermination and annihilation of terrorism up to the last terrorist”. This should indeed read as “up to the last Kurd”, given the intrinsic social and cultural ties between the rank and file fighters of the guerrilla PKK and the Kurdish people which is made up of large families, numerous tribes and clans who are then amalgamated under a growing Kurdish national conscience.


To what extent can the idea of Democratic Autonomy provide solutions and proposals?


Democratic autonomy is the only feasible political form to fit both the Kurdish demands for self-rule and Turkish concerns to preserve the unitary state. Since the state as well as the Kurdish people has not yet formally practiced that form of local power, it would be a premature conclusion to assert to what extent this proposal may provide solutions for Kurdish demands. But when we look back at the limited and short lived experience of the Kurdish municipalities we can see that the Kurdish people regarded the municipalities governed by pro-Kurdish mayors as their political bastions although no formal change occurred in their way of existence as part of Turkey’s provincial administration regime and instead the opposite; albeit the government kept these municipalities under strict financial and administrative control and was never able to completely convince themselves that they had not fallen under the rule of the PKK. Therefore, the most burning issue is rather the mutual recognition of the necessity for a more autonomous type of self-government particularly in the Kurdish provinces than the feasibility of a certain form of local government for resolving the problem.


Do you think Erdogan has abandoned the idea of Turkey entering the European Union?


Erdoğan, if he already had the power of the autocrat, would have long ago ended the EU Accession process for ideological reasons, but he hasn’t quite achieved that yet and instead is pursuing a deliberate strategy to replace the membership bid with “privileged partnership” as offered by Germany and France. If this is accomplished, it may benefit the crude mutual interests of the capitalists of both sides while relieving Erdoğan from adjusting his rule to fit in with European Law and the European big powers from digesting an Islamic country with an 80 million population of 20 percent youth unemployment, bordering the conflict zones of Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Iran and Cyprus. The EU issue is not one sided. Symmetrically, the leading EU countries France and Germany too for ideological and cultural reasons are categorically opposed to Turkey’s EU membership prospects but abide by the EU-Turkey membership agreement with major reservations on almost every issue. Yet, already 50 percent of Turkey’s foreign trade and financial transactions are with the EU countries alongside 5 million Turkish citizens living in the EU countries. These solid facts deter both sides from a direct and immediate attempts at cutting ties and are prolonging the existing state of affairs as long as possible yet with extinguishing synergy. From our perspective, Turkey’s membership bid  comprises the major external dynamics anchoring Ankara to democratic and human rights criteria which still prohibits Erdoğan from attempts at naked dictatorship.

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