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Turkey elections: Why is the pro-Kurdish HDP going it alone?

Left-wing HDP announces presidential candidate after complaining of being ignored by other opposition parties
Supporters of Pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) flash the V-sign for victory during a rally as they take part in the Kurdish celebration of Nowruz, the Persian New Year, in Ankara on March 20, 2022. (AFP)
HDP supporters flash the V-sign for victory during a rally as they take part in the Kurdish celebration of Nowruz, the Persian New Year, in Ankara on 20 March 2022 (AFP)
By Ragip Soylu in Istanbul, Turkey

Turkey’s pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) announced on Saturday that it would be nominating its own presidential candidate for upcoming elections, shooting down the possibility of throwing its weight behind a joint opposition candidate.

“We will name our candidate soon and go to the elections,” Pervin Buldan, the HDP co-chair, said during a party event in the eastern city of Kars. 

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Buldan’s announcement isn’t a simple decision since the HDP, with its 10-13 percent of votes, is essentially seen as the kingmaker between two competing political blocs led by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP). 

Several large-scale private polls conducted in December and viewed by Middle East Eye indicate the AKP’s People’s Alliance coalition has support from around 40 percent of the electorate, while the CHP’s Nation Alliance with five other opposition parties has a similar level of support.

Without the HDP’s votes, presidential elections are likely to take place over two rounds, with few believing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan or any of his opponents can win enough votes to pass the 50 percent threshold in the first round. 

The HDP announcement came as a surprise, as many believed the party would tacitly support the CHP candidate, as it did in the 2019 local elections, when the opposition captured large cities like Istanbul and Ankara.

What explains the HDP's decision?

The HDP said it announced its principles on how to choose a presidential nominee in October.

“We told everyone that we were ready to negotiate with every party that believes in these principles, but no one has tried to meet us or come up with a proposal,” Meral Danis Bestas, the HDP deputy group chairman, told MEE.

“People should stop behaving like we aren’t a party and we don’t matter. ” 

Bestas hit back at claims the HDP's move would only benefit Erdogan.

'We told everyone that we were ready to negotiate with every party that believes in these principles, but no one has tried to meet us or come up with a proposal'

- Meral Danis Bestas, HDP

“The ones who wouldn’t even host HDP politicians at their TV talkshows or media outlets now blame us for doing what a political party is supposed to do. They aren’t sincere,” she said.

Roj Girasun, the general manager of Rawest research institute, which specialises in Kurdish-majority cities, said the HDP had sent a warning to the Table of Six - as the main alliance of opposition leaders is referred - on their negotiations to name a joint candidate.

He said that the HDP was bothered by the opposition’s disregard of the HDP’s view on the subject, while instead focusing on what the Iyi Party, a centre-right nationalist party, had to say.

The Iyi Party has over the years repeatedly said that it would not take part in the Table of Six if it included the HDP due to its alleged links with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which is designated as a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

The HDP has denied any formal links to the PKK, but is currently embroiled in a trial at the Constitutional Court over attempts by the state prosecutor to close the party. A verdict is expected before the elections in coming months. 

Last week the Constitutional Court temporarily blocked the HDP’s bank accounts, which provoked little reaction from the other opposition parties.

'They are scared'

Bestas said her party had for years been targeted by the government with a campaign that included tactics such as arresting its members and expelling its mayors from office. She said this had been done without any sign of solidarity from other opposition leaders, whose own parties have also faced pressure from the government.

“The government has been demonising us,” she said. “But what about the opposition parties who say they would bring democracy to this country? They are scared." 

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The Table of Six has so far announced its intention to return Turkey to a parliamentary system of governance - throwing out the presidential system in place since 2018 - and is now drawing up a political roadmap as well as plans to distribute the ministries among the opposition parties.

Ecevit Kilic, a writer that studies Kurdish issues, believes the HDP hasn't taken its final decision on the subject of the presidential nomination.

“The HDP might reverse this step if it is included in the negotiations conducted by the Table of Six,” he said. 

Bestas, on the other hand, says her party is clear in its decision to run on its own against Erdogan, adding that the HDP will continue to recalculate its moves based on political dynamics. 

Some suspect the HDP will support the opposition’s joint candidate in the second round regardless.

“We want to get rid of the one-man regime and are open to hold talks with anyone who is sympathetic to our principles,” said Bestas.

“No one can tell us what to do.”

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