Pro-Kurdish party joins Turkish government
Istanbul - Turkey’s caretaker cabinet, which took office on August 28th, may be short-lived as its sole purpose is to guide the country to snap elections on November 1st. Still, the 63rd government since the foundation of modern Turkey is historic as it is the first Turkish government to include a pro-Kurdish party.
The caretaker cabinet’s formation also marks the first time in almost 13 years that the Islamic-conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP) of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was forced into power-sharing.
Ali Haydar Konca and Muslum Dogan of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), Turkey’s biggest pro- Kurdish party, joined the new government formed by AKP caretaker Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. Konca took over the EU portfolio while Dogan became minister for Economic Development.
The HDP and the AKP are political rivals that make strange bedfellows. Their union in the new cabinet is a result of a constitutional clause that calls for the formation of an all-party government to lead Turkey to new elections if the search for a government proves futile. Davutoglu failed to bring together a coalition with other parties after the AKP lost the parliamentary majority it had held since late 2002 in June elections.
“The HDP taking part in government was something neither Erdogan nor Davutoglu wanted,” Murat Yetkin, editor-in-chief of the English language Hurriyet Daily News, wrote in a column. The parties are expected to go head to head in the election campaign before November, especially as the AKP will be trying to win back votes of pious Kurds who left the party to vote for the HDP in the June election.
With only weeks to go before Election Day, the HDP is determined to make the most of the visibility provided by its cabinet roles to expand its voter base beyond Kurds to include reform-minded and green-issue voters.
Konca, as minister in charge of EU affairs, called on Turkey to listen carefully to criticism by Brussels and to speed up democratic reforms. Dogan, as Economic Development minister, launched an inquiry into a controversial road project on the Black Sea coast that has triggered protests by environmental groups.
The HDP ministers also said they would not use luxury cars provided by the government and would end the common practice of the AKP government to exclude reporters of opposition media from news conferences. “If the press is free, everybody can take part” in news conferences, Konca wrote on Twitter.
While the HDP is wooing voters, the AKP is thinking about ways to counter the pro-Kurdish party that surprised many by scoring 13% of the votes in June. Davutoglu and other AKP leaders have said the HDP is not distancing itself enough from rebels of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Following the June election Erdogan, who remains the de facto leader of the AKP despite becoming head of state a year ago, accused the PKK of voter intimidation in the Kurdish region. This will not happen again, Erdogan vowed. “The Turkish armed forced and the Interior Ministry will take all measures,” the president said, according to news reports. “Things that happened on June 7th will not happen again on November 1st.”
Despite the political rivalries, the HDP’s inclusion in the government may offer a chance to curb renewed violence in the Kurdish region, where the PKK has been stepping up attacks on security forces, triggering a massive military response by Ankara. Dozens of soldiers and police officers as well as hundreds of PKK fighters have died in the new wave of violence, according to the government.
The unrest in south-east Anatolia is a crucial issue in which the HDP’s and the AKP’s interests overlap: Both parties could hope to benefit from an end to the fighting.
“May this government silence weapons and create safe conditions for elections,” Konca wrote on Twitter after becoming EU minister. The HDP has called on the PKK to return to the ceasefire that had been in place since 2013 but collapsed with the start of fighting in July. Davutoglu said the PKK should withdraw its fighters from Turkey.
Critics accuse Erdogan and the AKP of provoking fresh tensions in the Kurdish area to attract nationalist voters but several pollsters say the AKP has failed to benefit from the situation.
A majority of 53.5% of respondents told polling firm Metropoll in August they thought the approach displayed by Erdogan and Davutoglu after the start of the latest fighting had been “irresponsible and dangerous”; 40.6% said the president and the prime minister had provoked the violence.
Even polls by companies seen as close to the AKP predict that the HDP will again be in parliament in November. Such a result could make it difficult for Erdogan’s party to regain the assembly majority the AKP lost in June. Other polls say the AKP could drop to less than the 40.9% of the vote it received in June.