Kurdish Issue

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Turkey’s fractious politics Fighting on two fronts- the Economist

turkey-election-results

TWO months ago Selahattin Demirtas, the leader of Turkey’s left-wing, pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), was celebrating his party’s success in its first-ever national election campaign. The HDP won 13% of the vote and cost the pro-Islamist Justice and Development (AK) party control of parliament. Last week, Mr Demirtas and his fellow HDP deputies sent the government an unusual request: to lift their parliamentary immunity. The previous day Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a co-founder of AK, had demanded the arrest of parliamentarians with “terrorist links”. The HDP wanted to show it had nothing to hide. “We have never supported violence, terrorism or racism,” said Mr Demirtas. “We won’t bow to pressure and blackmail.”

Mr Erdogan’s demands are part of a strategy to gain political advantage by marginalising Turkey’s Kurds. Last month, when Turkey began bombing Islamic State (IS) and allowing NATO warplanes to use its air bases for attacks, Western allies hoped Mr Erdogan had understood the gravity of the IS threat. But Mr Erdogan has used bombing IS as cover for much heavier air strikes against the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) in northern Iraq. Peace talks launched over two years ago have in effect ended. Hundreds of Kurds have been arrested. The PKK, which has fought intermittently for Kurdish autonomy in Turkey for decades, has resumed killing Turkish policemen and soldiers. The PKK’s attacks play into Mr Erdogan’s hands; many believe it, too, is escalating the conflict to undermine the HDP’s moderates.

Mr Erdogan’s goal is to help AK hold on to power. The party’s caretaker government seems uninterested in forming a coalition. It has started negotiations with the secular Republican People’s Party, but the two parties have little in common, and only two weeks remain before the deadline. If no government is formed by August 23rd, the president could call elections for 90 days later. In the meantime a government involving all parties would run the country. AK, which has ruled alone since 2002, is unlikely to welcome that.

One possibility floated by Mr Erdogan would be a minority AK government. To win a vote of confidence, a Turkish government needs only a majority of MPs present. The hard-line Nationalist Action Party (MHP) could help by staying away; parliamentary arithmetic would then work in AK’s favour.

But a new election might not produce the result AK wants. In June’s election many conservative Kurds switched from AK to HDP, provoked by AK’s increasingly strident tone. Escalating violence in the south-east will only strengthen this trend. AK might hope to win votes by tapping into anti-Kurdish sentiment, never far from the surface. Devlet Bahceli, the leader of the MHP, rails against the affluent Turks “sipping whisky in Bosporus mansions” who voted for HDP. AK’s leaders also believe such tactical voting played a part in HDP’s success.

Meanwhile, Mr Erdogan’s pursuit of political advantage has cost him years of progress towards a settlement with Turkey’s Kurds. “Erdogan was in a position to perform miracles on the Kurdish front,” laments a Western diplomat. Yet Western friends have been cautious in their criticism, respecting Turkey’s right to defend itself against PKK terrorism. Johannes Hahn, the European Union’s commissioner for enlargement, notes only that Turkish action must be “proportionate, targeted and by no means endanger the democratic political dialogue in the country.”

The great divide in Turkish politics was once that between the secular army and the Islamist-minded AK. Mr Erdogan’s enlistment of the army in his new campaign to crush the Kurds shows that he has bridged this gap. The HDP must now hope that voters will reward transparency over nationalist fervour. “They want to criminalise us, they want to marginalise us,” says Ayhan Bilgen, the party’s spokesman. “If political parties are involved in violence, we want parliament to investigate it. We are not afraid.”
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This entry was posted on 2015-08-08 by in News Articles.
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