Turkey underdog could be kingmaker

Friday 05/06/2015
Supporters of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, HDP

ISTANBUL - A small Kurdish party struggling to garner enough votes to enter parliament could de­termine the outcome of Turkey’s closely watched election.
Polls say it is unclear whether the Peoples’ Democratic Party, known by its Turkish initials HDP, will be able to claim more than 10% of the nationwide vote, a bar every party has to clear to win any seats in par­liament in Ankara.
HDP joint leader Selahattin Demirtas has been trying to ride a wave of animosity towards Presi­dent Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) among parts of the electorate.
“We will not make you presi­dent” runs one HDP election slo­gan, referring to Erdogan’s plan to introduce a US-style executive presidency to replace the current parliamentary democracy.
Demirtas, a 42-year-old lawyer from the eastern province of Elazig, has been working to extend HDP’s reach beyond its core Kurdish party vot­ers, who make up 5-6% of the electorate. Affable and good-humoured in contrast to the seemingly perpetually irate Erdogan, Demirtas has reached out to the non-Kurdish majority and gained support from young voters and the sec­ular middle and upper classes who are wary of Erdogan’s ambi­tions.
HDP owes its crucial role in the June 7th election to the election rules. If the party gets more than 10% of the vote, it will send at least 60 deputies to the 550-seat cham­ber, according to projections. That would reduce the number of seats for the AKP and two other parties expected to be represented in par­liament.
If the HDP stays below the thresh­old, it will get no seats, boosting the parliamentary strength of the re­maining parties, with AKP expect­ed to be the main winner.
Even if HDP gets into parliament, AKP is likely to remain Turkey’s strongest party with around 40% of the vote. But the Kurdish party could stop AKP getting the 330 seats it needs to change the con­stitution at will and give Erdogan sweeping new powers. An even stronger showing for the HDP could push the number of AKP deputies to fewer than the 276 needed to form a majority government.
That could lead to the first coali­tion government in Turkey since AKP rule began in 2002.
Calculations like that make HDP attractive to Turkish voters who would not normally consider sup­porting a Kurdish party, but oppose Erdogan.
Erdogan and the AKP have re­acted by highlighting HDP’s ties to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a rebel group fighting for Kurdish self-rule since 1984. They have also questioned HDP’s and PKK’s Islam­ic credentials in a bid to win over Muslim-conservative Kurds.
In a speech June 1st, Erdogan said Kurdish rebels converted young re­cruits to Zoroastrianism. “Those in the mountains have nothing to do with Islam,” he said.
Okay Gonensin, a columnist at the mainstream Vatan newspa­per, said concerns about Erdogan’s plans created a groundswell of sup­port among voters opting for HDP despite a traditional attachment to other parties. “I have an acquaint­ance who normally votes AKP and says he will go for the HDP this time,” he said.