Turkey’s Green Left Party (YSP), through which the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) will participate in crucial national elections next month, has announced its political platform. A summary of their manifesto for the May 2023 political process, where the HDP may well be able to play a king-maker role in unseating President Erdoğan even in the face of efforts to ban their own pro-Kurdish, pro-minority rights party outright, is now available online. The declaration includes a wide range of optimistic proposals for reforming Turkish society from the bottom up, in fields from geopolitics to the economy to the reintroduction of fundamental rights protections. The protection of ‘basic income security’ amounting to two-thirds of the monthly minimum wage for the unemployed, trade union rights, pension reform, local ecological assemblies are all on the agenda.
Some of these policies may find more space to be heard and developed under the People’s Republican Party (CHP), mooted to take overall control of the country with the HDP’s backing: some elements remain utopian given the overall political climate in Turkey, regardless of which: others may be implemented on the local level, if repression of elected Kurdish political representatives and progressive actors in Turkey were to temporarily ease following a transition of power. Much remains uncertain, but one thing is clear: the road to political reform in Turkey is long and arduous.
It remains distinctly possible that the incumbent President Erdoğan will retain power in May, through some combination of intimidation, repression of the opposition, and fanning the flames beneath the feet of his nationalist power-base, particularly by inciting voters against the threat of increased Kurdish autonomy. The very fact the HDP may well become Turkey’s ninth pro-Kurdish party to be banned in succession, forcing them to run their candidates via their previously obscure coalition partner in the YSP, is proof of this fact.
Little wonder that the YSP and HDP place political reform at the centre of their policy platform. As co-spokesperson Çiğdem Kılıçgün Uçar indicated, “We are ready to write a new democratic constitution in accordance with Turkey’s multi-identity, multi-cultural, multi-faith, multi-lingual structure, to write a constitution for all society with democratic participation and social negotiation.”
Such bottom-up reform would indeed be necessary if the pro-democratic bloc led by the HDP, who remain Turkey’s third-largest political party despite heavy repression, are to achieve their stated goal of “strengthening local governments based on democracy and equal representation with the will of the people participating in management and decision-making processes through assemblies, city councils, platforms, professional organisations and democratic mass organisations.”
The HDP and associated political and civil society actors had previously made steps in this direction in the districts in Turkey’s Kurdish south-east where they won political control, only to see their district co-chairs jailed and replaced with unelected, government-controlled puppets, and local assemblies crushed by state repression. Even if the HDP do make electoral gains, simply undoing these measures and pushing for the release of Turkey’s many political prisoners must be a first step.
For it is telling that many of the proposals in the YSP manifesto are simply to roll back errors, repressive measures and vanity projects implemented by the ailing Erdoğan administration. The YSK promise to bring Turkey back into the fold of the Istanbul Convention on violence against women, from which Turkey controversially withdrew in a stark illustration of deteriorating protections for women; resume dialogue and negotiations with the Kurdish freedom movement like those in place from 2015-2016; cancel Erdoğan’s controversial and widely-condemned Istanbul Canal project; and bring an end to the repressive measures introduced by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government under ‘state of emergency laws’, used following a 2016 coup attempt to implement widespread repression of political actors and civil society.
Such measures would only be a first step, opening the way to the public conversation and reform needed to push for more deep-seated changes in Turkey’s political culture. Perhaps the YSP will simply follow the HDP in becoming just the latest progressive political force to be banned. Their manifesto represents a democratic ideal the Turkish authorities have not been able to repress, but whether this election will herald the YSP’s looked-for “century in which the Kurdish question is solved through democratic negotiations and dialogue between the parliament and interlocutors” remains to be seen.
Matt Broomfield is a freelance journalist, poet and activist. He writes for VICE, Medya News, the New Statesman and the New Arab; his prose has been published by The Mays, Anti-Heroin Chic and Plenitude; and his poetry by the National Poetry Society, the Independent, and Bare Fiction. His work was displayed across London by Poetry on the Underground, and he is a Foyle Young Poet of the Year.