Pro-Kurdish party joins Turkish government

Friday 04/09/2015
Stopping the violence. A masked Kurdish militant holds a Molotov cocktail during clashes with
Turkish police on August 30, 2015 in Istanbul.

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.