May 19, 2015 | Policy Brief

Attacks Target Turkey’s Leftist Pro-Kurdish Party – Again

May 19, 2015 | Policy Brief

Attacks Target Turkey’s Leftist Pro-Kurdish Party – Again

Explosions hit the local offices of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) in two southern Turkish cities on Monday, wounding six. The attack was only the latest act of violence against the left-wing and pro-Kurdish opposition party in the run-up to parliamentary elections on June 7. The HDP’s offices and supporters have been targeted at least 60 times, including by shooting attacks and arson, since January.

Stakes are high for Turkey’s Kurds in this election. They have a historic opportunity to enter the Turkish parliament as a party. Parties must surmount a strikingly high 10 percent election threshold, and the Kurds, who make up around 15-20 percent of the population, have never garnered enough votes nationwide to pass the barrier, receiving only 6 to 7 percent. Kurds have therefore preferred to run as independent candidates for whom the threshold does not apply. They have traditionally formed party groups once in parliament.

Now, for the first time, the HDP is hoping to pass the threshold with the help of its charismatic co-chairman Selahattin Demirtas, who received 9.5 percent of votes in August presidential elections. The party has put civil liberties, women’s, and LGBT rights at the core of its campaign, and thus appears to be drawing support from Turkish leftists and liberals.

Polls forecast the HDP’s votes at just below or just above the threshold. If the HDP exceeds the threshold, the party would reduce the AKP’s parliamentary seats by at least 20. By contrast, should the HDP fail to pass the threshold, its votes would be distributed among those parties that did, with the AKP gaining most of those additional seats.

With a lot on the line, animosity between the two parties is running high.  Though the AKP condemned Monday’s bombings, the HDP pointed its finger straight back at Erdogan and the AKP, saying that the incendiary election rhetoric of the Islamist bloc had turned the party into an open target.

Indeed, Erdogan has been campaigning against the HDP by calling its leaders anti-religion and identifying them in campaign speeches as supporters of terrorist organization the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK). Erdogan’s strategy is to steal religiously conservative Kurds’ votes from the HDP, and to solidify nationalist votes for the ruling party.

Should the HDP fight off Erdogan’s attacks and pass the electoral threshold, the party will have the potential to act as a check against the AKP – and, in particular, against Erdogan’s bid to forge Turkey’s parliamentary  system into a presidential one. If, however, the HDP fails, Erdogan’s path to consolidated power will be paved. Moreover, having no Kurdish representation in parliament could derail the peace process with the PKK, and result in even-more frequent spurts of violence – attacks carried out by Kurds rather than attacks against them.

Merve Tahiroglu is a research associate at Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow her on Twitter @MerveTahiroglu


Kurds Turkey