News is spreading worldwide that Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is nearly certain to spend another five years strengthening his grip on power. Following the first-round vote on Sunday, Erdoğan secured 49.5 percent of the support, while his challenger Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu received 44.9 percent. Subsequently, runoff elections have been scheduled for 28 May.
The grim situation reminds us of Turkey’s weak democratic norms and the extent of nationalist, racist, hard-right sentiments. The glimmer of hope comes from the long-harassed Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), whose unyielding fight for progressive, democratic values has again shown its resilience.
The HDP and the associated Green Left Party joined the electoral process under extremely hostile conditions, with an autocratic regime controlling all state institutions and the press. These difficulties were well illustrated by a joint statement by election observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe. It said that although the elections were “well-organised” and for the most part peaceful, voters were limited in their political choices by the criminalisation and imprisonment of HDP members. The statement also pointed to the barriers imposed by Erdoğan, which massively restricted the opposition.
The Justice and Development Party (AKP), under Erdoğan’s leadership, strategically marginalised the HDP from the electoral race by employing calculated tactics. To avoid closure through a politically motivated court case, the HDP opted to participate in the election through the Green Left. This move aimed to overcome the imminent risk of being banned — a fate that has already befallen eight of its predecessors.
The HDP’s party organisation was already weakened by systematic repression, which has continued uninterrupted since 2016, with more than fifteen thousand party leaders and members arrested. Right now this party has more than four thousand members languishing in jail. As for the Green Left Party, it was admitted to the electoral process very late, only once the election date had already been announced. All this is part of Erdoğan’s sophisticated efforts to deny us fair participation in the political process.
As a political structure denied virtually all resources, the Green Left Party thus entered the elections on unequal terms. Even so, the results show that the HDP, through the Green Left, has once again maintained its position as the third-strongest force, both in parliament and in society.
Millions of citizens in Turkey have put their trust in us to continue the struggle against autocracy and oppression and to demand a democratic and peaceful solution to Turkey’s problems. That is the work that must now be taken forward.
If political conditions in Turkey were free and fair, the HDP would have participated with the support of more than four thousand imprisoned officials, former co- chairs, deputies, co-mayors, and members. They would not have been excluded from the media in Turkey and would have been able to disseminate their ideas to society under equal conditions. This could have produced a quite different outcome, and indeed a nightmare scenario for Erdoğan.
The presidential elections themselves took place under remarkable conditions. Opposition candidate Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) faced media and state platform exclusion but received support from the HDP and its bloc. This help enabled Kılıçdaroğlu to push the election into a runoff against Erdoğan. Consequently, the president’s aura of invincibility has been significantly diminished, with these being his worst-ever election results.
Now, we can hope that despite the manipulation of voters through nationalist and religious rhetoric, the Turkish people will not reelect a leader who has caused immense harm to their country. Choosing him again would only result in further self-punishment and a less democratic future.
Turkey has a history of diverse rule, but consistent democracy remains untried. It’s time for Turkey to overcome its fears and dare to be democratic. The most important sources of inspiration in this regard are the HDP and Green Left Party, and the broader political approach of the Kurdish freedom movement. Despite the struggle for power between Erdoğan’s Islamist-nationalist bloc and the secular-nationalist one opposed to him, we remain the most important force struggling for democracy and a true alternative in Turkey. This means an alternative in which women, different peoples and religious groups, and all citizens can live together in peace. Speaking of these values, according to the preliminary results, there are thirty-one women among the sixty-three Green Left deputies elected to parliament.
Had the authoritarian, nationalist, and patriarchal Erdoğan not spent the past decade systematically liquidating the progressive opposition, the situation would be very different today. But the final outcome will be decided in the 28 May second round. Nothing is finished yet.
Devriş Çimen is European representative of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).