Medya News has convened a panel discussion on ‘Turkey’s elections: democracy in crisis and the Kurds as kingmakers.’ Attendees heard contributions from Kurdish political figures and expert analysts including Osman Baydemir, the democratically-elected HDP mayor of Diyarbakir (Amed), and Bedia Özgökçe, the democratically-elected HDP mayor of Van (Wan).
Opening the discussion, Baydemir said “Despite constant arrests, repression and harassment, our activists and politicians are on the ground today in their thousands, working to spread the news about the progressive, federal alternative model of politics which we know is the only answer to the many problems facing Turkey today. We call upon European governments, parliamentary institutions and progressive parties to take action to ensure the democratic process and rule of law are respected in these crucial elections, and on all of you listening today to raise these issues in your own countries, parliaments and communities.”
Both Baydemir and Özgökçe were forced into exile by the government of President Erdoğan. Addressing the Turkish practice of imposing state-appointed ‘trustees’ in lieu of democratically-appointed Kurdish mayors, Özgökçe said “As you know, the government doesn’t respect the results in Kurdish cities in any way, and doesn’t respect the basic rights of the Kurdish people. The ‘trustee regime’ takes away the Kurdish people’s right to participate in governance.”
The presidential and parliamentary elections on 14 May represent the biggest chance for political change Turkey has seen for a generation. The past two decades have seen Turkish President Erdogan rule with an increasingly authoritarian hand. Nowhere has this been more obvious, panellists said, than in his repeated attacks on the Kurdish people and their movement for democracy and fundamental rights, both at home and abroad.
“The Kurds are the kingmakers, and both the ruling bloc and the opposition bloc know this very well. With the patience and persistence of the Kurdish people, we demand our fundamental rights. Today, Turkish society is taking a stand in favour of democratisation and change. People see the unmanageability of this Presidential system, [the separation of] elements such as the legislature and judiciary has been abolished. The opposition have promised democratic change, saying the problems will be solved by talking. They say they will end the trustee regime, and [reintroduce] the independence of the judiciary,” Özgökçe added.
Attendees also heard contributions from MEP Nikolaj Villumsen, of the Left Group in the European Parliament; Nazan Üstündağ, sociologist, of the Gerda Henkel Stiftung Patrimonies Program; and Hazel Eris and Emma Müller, two members of a UK electoral observation delegation currently in Turkey.
Villumsen’s Left Group will be attending the elections to monitor the results. He described the need for the democratic process to be protected by the active engagement of European political institutions, saying “These elections are also crucial for Europe.”
Meanwhile, Eris and Müller shared first-hand observations of both police intimidation and repression on the campaign trail, and the efforts of the Kurdish-led progressive opposition to work in the face of these authoritarian measures. Describing recent dawn raids on Kurdish politicians, activists, journalists and artists which saw hundreds detained, Eris said “This is just one form of assault, not only against [the HDP and associated parties], but also civil society. In the following weeks there have been more arrests… I’ve been here before, and when I was here a year ago, there were also raids and arrests against HDP members and democratic structures… The same day that all these arrests were made, there was a denouncement of these arrests by the Green Left Party. The police knew this was going to happen, and so they had literally hundreds of police surrounding the announcement with riot shields and water cannons.”