Less than four months to go till the local elections in Turkey, and parties are slowly pre-sorting to a lane they want to ride during the campaign. Biggest issue for now: will the opposition again choose to run with a joint candidate to beat the AKP/MHP-candidates, especially in the big cities? Also, HEDEP has to make a choice. And it looks like the Kurdish party has already made up its mind.
The previous elections didn’t particularly turn out very well for HEDEP. I’m talking about the general and presidential elections that were held last May. HEDEP was running under the banner of the Yeşil Sol Parti (Green Left Party), which was a move to make sure they could participate in the elections at all. After all, the HDP, which had been the party rooted in the Kurdish political movement since 2012, was about to be banned because the government (wrongly) accused it of terrorism.
Yeşil Sol Parti received only 8.8% of the votes and lost six parliamentary seats, which was a disappointment. The candidate Yeşil Sol Parti supported in the presidential elections, (now former) CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, was beaten by Erdoğan in the second round. What had started as a promising united opposition that really had the potential to send Erdoğan home, turned into a huge anti-climax.
Let’s not get into the details of that now – so much has been written about it already. What’s important, is that the Yeşil Sol Parti has initiated a consultation with its voter base about what they think went wrong. In cities and towns all over Kurdistan, meetings were (and are being) set up to talk to the people. I wish I was in Bakur (Kurdistan in Turkey) to visit such meetings but well, the Turkish border is still closed to me, but what I have understood from reports in the media that report from Kurdistan, is that people want candidates from their own parties to vote for, and no joint candidates with other parties. Spokeswoman Ayşegül Doğan has reflected on the party’s plans in a press conference this week.
Meanwhile, I need to mention, the Yeşil Sol Parti has become the new party HEDEP (Peoples’ Equality and Democracy Party). Yeşil Sol Parti was basically a vehicle to be able to run in the elections, but a new party name was needed to take Kurdish politics into the future.
In a bizarre turn of events, a Turkish court has ruled that the acronym HEDEP can’t be used because it resembles HADEP too much, which is one of HEDEP’s predecessors from the 1990s that was also banned. HEDEP has decided to keep the name People’s Equality and Democracy Party but will come up with a new acronym. I thought maybe an acronym based on the Kurdish translation of the party’s name, Partiya Wekhevî û Demokrasiya Gelan, would be cool, so WEDEG – but that’s a no-go because registering official names in Turkey with a W in it is banned.
Anyway, sorry for the side note. For Bakur, so the Kurdish cities and towns in the southeast of Turkey, a decision to run with their own candidate and not a joint one, isn’t relevant: they have always done that. It counts for the big cities where the AKP’s candidates were beaten in the previous local elections, in 2019, most importantly Istanbul and Ankara. At the time, several parties, including the HDP, supported the CHP candidates, Imamoğlu and Yavaş, and they won and are still working as those city’s mayors.
Erdoğan wants Istanbul and Ankara back in AKP hands, or course. It seems logical that his chances of success increase if the opposition is fractured, but we shouldn’t be too sure. After all, a candidate needs at least 50% to win. More Kurds going to vote because they can vote for somebody who actually represents them, could keep the AKP candidate under 50%, requiring a re-run between the two best-scoring candidates. We can assume HEDEP candidates wouldn’t run again in the second rounds (in cities outside Kurdistan), but HEDEP could rally its supporters behind Erdogan’s rivals in second rounds. So maybe, running with their own candidates is smart for the bigger cities too.
But I think we shouldn’t only look at this issue from this perspective. Before the presidential elections in May, I already dreamed about a HDP candidate. Voting for Kılıçdaroğlu in May was strategic, but also painful for Kurds. Especially because Kılıçdaroğlu forged a dirty alliance with a far-right bully, Ümit Özdağ, which caused quite a few Kurds not to go voting at all in the second round.
Kurds do need a candidate of their own, in every city and town where it’s possible. They need candidates who won’t have to promise to represent them, because they come from Kurdish communities that demand freedom and justice and will therefore naturally represent their people. Candidates they can vote for with pride and dignity, instead of out of strategic obligation. Candidates with whom the Kurds can defiantly show that their vote does still matter, and that it matters even more when they compete on their own terms, with their own demands. That they are still a force to be reckoned with.
Final decisions haven’t been made yet, not about strategy and not even yet about the name under which the party will run, but I’m getting excited already.