HDP’s historic triumph at the polls renews focus on peace process in Turkey

History was achieved at the polls in Turkey as the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) became the first pro-Kurdish party to enter parliament as it emphatically surpassed the traditionally elusive election threshold with 13% of the vote.

At the same time, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) were the biggest losers even as they amassed the most votes.

The electoral outcome means that Turkey returns to the days of coalition governments and instability that blighted the country prior to the onset of the AKP in 2002. The elections results were also seen as a major dent in Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan quest to amend the constitution and for a stronger presidential system.

The manifestation of 80 seats in parliament in many ways builds a new bridge between East and West of Turkey. For too long, the Kurdish problem was reduced to a terror problem. In fact, various Kurdish parties suffered under the PKK label and were quickly shut.

However, 13% of the national vote is a strong political mandate and not a voice of terror. The people clearly strive for peace and a strong voice in parliament is the vehicle for the Kurdish card to firmly enter Turkish politics.

Importantly, the HDP were able to successfully muster non-Kurdish votes which is important in its ambition to become a progressive party of Turkey.

The peace process became a key battleground between the AKP and HDP as fierce rhetoric resonated on the issue.

The peace process has somewhat stalled ahead of the elections with the PKK not willing to giving up arms outright without certain conditions been met and the AKP not willing to alienate its nationalist voter base by succumbing to PKK demands.

HDP has worked as a key interlocutor with a measure of influence with imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, but they have stressed that the power to instigate the giving up of arms is with Ocalan and not them.

HDP leader Selahattin Demirtaş hit back at criticism of interim Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on the issue of laying down of arms, as heated rhetoric continued in the aftermath of the elections, stating that only Ocalan is capable of this and “Ocalan will make the call, and he is ready in İmralı to do it.”

A HDP delegation is seemingly ready to visit Imrali where there is optimism that Ocalan could set a date for the party’s congress to convene discussions on laying down of arms. Ocalan has undoubted influence but from an isolated prison other wider PKK circles have to be appeased, and it’s not clear how far or how willing a potentially weaker new government in Turkey would be to meeting key demands.

Elusive peace has many obstacles and many foes. Deadly bombings at a HDP rally days before the elections, increasing skirmishes between the PKK and Turkish forces and most recently a number of fatalities as the leader of a charity linked to the Kurdish Islamist political party Huda Par, with traditional animosity with the PKK, was killed.

It is clear so soon after the elections that these provocations are intended to stir unrest in the south east of Turkey and derail peace. This could be from nationalists who want to undermine the success of the HDP at the polls or sideline any peace with the PKK or show that HDP has unsufficient weight to placate the Kurdish region, from Huda Par seeking to stir old tension with the PKK or even elements from the PKK who believe their armed struggle is not over.

Demirtaş lashed out at the lack of government response, “People are taking steps to push the country into a civil war, and the prime minister and president are nowhere to be seen.”

From essential non-existence to a strong role in parliament, the Kurds have a come a long way in Turkey, the implementation of the peace process is now of critical importance for a better Turkey for both Turks and Kurds.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

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