Turkey’s third-biggest political party has said it will not field its own candidate for president in May’s election, a move that is likely to boost support for the main opposition candidate hoping to end incumbent Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s two decades in power.
The Peoples’ Democratic party (HDP), whose base is overwhelmingly Kurdish, stopped short of explicitly backing Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the main opposition party who has the support of five other groups that have formed an alliance to unseat Erdoğan.
But the HDP’s decision, announced on Wednesday, reduces the chances of a major split in the opposition vote as Kılıçdaroğlu seeks to consolidate support ahead of the May 14 presidential and parliamentary vote. The HDP has the support of an estimated 12 per cent of the electorate, and analysts say its voters could swing the election outcome.
Recent polls have shown Kılıçdaroğlu leading Erdoğan, who faces his toughest election test yet after a devastating earthquake last month killed more than 57,000 people in Turkey and Syria. While his ruling Justice and Development party remains Turkey’s biggest, its approval rating has fallen to historical lows over Erdoğan’s handling of a cost of living crisis that has squeezed millions of Turks.
“We will fulfil our historical responsibility against one-man rule . . . we will not nominate a candidate in the presidential election,” Pervin Buldan, HDP co-chair, said at a news conference.
The HDP, which leads a leftwing alliance with five smaller parties, had previously said it would nominate its own presidential contender. But the earthquake forced it to reassess the merits of challenging Erdoğan on its own, said Buldan, who met Kılıçdaroğlu this week.
“The path towards a bright future and building political democracy is to expand the struggle together,” she said, adding that Erdoğan’s defeat would ensure that parliament was empowered to find “a democratic and peaceful solution to the Kurdish issue”.
Kılıçdaroğlu has vowed to restore Turkey’s parliamentary system, which was replaced in 2018 via a contentious referendum by an executive presidency that gave Erdoğan broad powers over the judiciary, economy and security.
Erdoğan and his partners have labelled the HDP the “political extension” of the armed Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK), which has waged a four-decade insurgency for autonomy in south-eastern Turkey that has killed more than 40,000 people.
The HDP denies links with the PKK, which is listed as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the US and EU, and advocates for a negotiated settlement of the conflict. Thousands of HDP activists, including its former leader Selahattin Demirtaş, are in prison following the collapse of a peace process with the PKK in 2015.
“The HDP is asking for a broad commitment to democratisation,” said Aslı Aydıntaşbaş, a fellow at the Brookings Institution think-tank. “Given that Turkey has gone through this extremely dark period, marked by an ultranationalist, securitised response to the Kurdish issue, that will have consequences, including getting Kurdish politicians out of jail.”
Turkey’s top court is considering a case to ban the HDP for its alleged links to the PKK. The HDP has said it would run its parliamentary candidates with a different party should it be closed.
The main opposition bloc, which includes Islamist and nationalist parties, has shied away from formally inviting HDP to the table, even though the HDP’s support for opposition mayors in 2019 proved essential in capturing the Istanbul and Ankara municipalities from the ruling party.
Many HDP voters view Kılıçdaroğlu, who was born in a predominantly Kurdish region of Turkey and belongs to the Alevi faith, as a sympathetic figure. Kurds are Turkey’s largest ethnic minority, making up about 20 per cent of the population of 85mn people.
Source: Financial Times