DEM Party hasn’t even announced their candidate for the local elections in Istanbul yet and the potential candidate who won’t be a candidate is already influencing the race more than any of the actual candidates. This is what the party has already achieved and I’d say that’s pretty impressive. The Kurds are back with a vengeance.
I must say that when I read that Başak Demirtaş wouldn’t be DEM Party’s candidate, I felt my heart sink. Oh no! She’s withdrawing! But then I thought, come on Geerdink, why are you disappointed? Is there an actual good reason for it, or did the mere thought of her candidacy trigger your journalistic-opportunistic greed for exciting stories? What would the pros and cons of her candidacy be, and how would the party assess it? That’s journalistically less spectacular, but more interesting.
So I shoved my disappointment aside. And saw that, of course, Basak’s withdrawal caused a lot of uproar. There were many trolls attacking the party on social media, but there was genuine sadness too among Kurds and other DEM Party voters. Başak Demirtaş used to be a teacher in Diyarbakır but has grown into a political actor herself in the years that her highly popular husband Selahattin has been in jail (since 2016), even though she holds no official position. She is a force and would definitely have attracted a lot of votes, not only of Kurds but also of young people, women and leftists who would otherwise vote for CHP’s Imamoğlu.
But she would not have beaten Imamoğlu. She could have beaten AKP candidate Murat Kurum, whom we could call the exact opposite of Başak Demirtaş, if Imamoğlu would withdraw and endorse Demirtaş, but that’s only going to happen in a very different Turkey. In the current Turkey, Kurds are expected to dance to the tune of the established political actors.
When it became clear that DEM Party would run with its own candidate in Istanbul, Imamoğlu supporters were angry because it would split the opposition vote and weaken Imamoglu’s chances. When Başak announced that she would be prepared to run (but speculations about such a move go further back, at least till December, they went berzerk. There must be a deal with AKP that in exchange for her weakening Imamoğlu and letting AKP’s Kurum win, Selahattin will be released! That’s so selfish! Totally absurd of course. Such reasoning, if you can call it reasoning, says more about the morals of those going berzerk than about Selahattin, Başak and DEM Party. They are not immoral obscure deal makers.
DEM Party wants to give their constituency a candidate of their own so they can vote with dignity.
But: what is behind Başak Demirtaş’s withdrawal, after she earlier expressed willingness to be a candidate? We don’t know exactly what kind of deliberations she and the party had, but I do believe it was a shared decision. She hadn’t officially applied to be a candidate yet and of course all options need to be evaluated, and the outcome can be that it’s better not to run, even though you are a popular candidate. All kinds of other dynamics play a role.
There could be a lot of truth in the analysis of Artı Gerçek’s İrfan Aktan. What he basically says is that DEM Party had several demands for AKP in order to solve some injustices via legal measures. One of them is an absurd court case against several high profile Kurdish (and Turkish) politicians, among whom Selahattin Demirtaş. Another is the isolation of Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan, and yet another is the appointment of ‘trustees’ in Kurdish cities to replace elected Kurdish mayors. DEM Party wants these issues solved but not via some obscure deal because they don’t do obscure deals and because AKP can’t be trusted, but via a legal process.
AKP was apparently not prepared to do that. That’s no surprise, but had Erdoğan indeed showed some responsibility, then Başak Demirtaş’s candidacy would have been suitable. Last month, she said about her possible candidacy, as Aktan quotes his interview with her: “If we believe that it will pave the way for democracy and social peace, we can consider it.” Imagine if at least one of those very pressing problems would have been solved in a legal way and on top of that, Kurds could have festively voted for Demirtaş in Istanbul: that could have amazingly paved ‘a way for democracy and peace’.
Yes, Murat Kurum would have won Istanbul (unless Imamoğlu would have withdrawn), but there would have been hard concessions. And for Kurds, in the end it doesn’t really make that much of a difference who is at the helm, CHP or AKP: they are both not interested in solving the Kurdish issue via democratic means. The cards were put on AKP because they are in the government, but Erdoğan chose violence over democracy.
So now, in Istanbul DEM Party is up against both AKP and CHP. They both wanted to run their race not only without a DEM Party candidate but also without addressing the Kurdish demands in any way. Turkish nationalist will decide about Istanbul, Kurds should not interfere. In the end, running with Başak Demirtaş would have made Murat Kurum’s victory too easy. By running with another candidate, both AKP and CHP will have to make an effort to please Kurds to vote for them. Thanks to Demirtaş, who showed the establishment that Kurds are ultra eager to vote for ‘one of their own’.
Başak Demirtaş won’t be a candidate, but she’s played a vital role in the upcoming elections already. Respect for her.