The results of the local elections and its repercussions on the political scene continue to reverberate throughout Turkey. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) was the biggest winner in the elections and is now preparing itself for the presidential race in August. The AKP, led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is demonstrating that it will be the party that will decide who becomes the next president, and that its electoral strength is more than sufficient to deliver its candidate to the presidential palace.
As for the opposition leadership, they are seeking to take shelter from the post-election storm raging in the country. But they are well aware that, sooner or later, they will have to pay the piper—their disappointed supporters and members—for their weak electoral showing. This also applies to the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), which is facing accusations that it is allied with its fiercest political rival, the Islamic movement of Fethullah Gülen, as part of the project to displace Erdoğan’s government—a project that has ultimately been completely dashed.
The Kurdish parties and leaders in the Turkish opposition have also begun discussions with the objective of learning lessons from the recent elections in preparation for their next two election battles. The first is the election battle surrounding the presidency that will take place later this summer. The second will take place in about a year: Turkey’s general elections set for 2015.
The first major move in the Kurdish political arena came at the behest of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan, who has been in his prison cell on İmralı Island for more than 15 years. The PKK leader’s statement and initiative for peace were expected, and the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) took the decision to ally with the People’s Democracy Party (HDP) just weeks before the election.
The objective of this union, under a new banner, was to send a message both to the country’s Kurds and to everyone else in Turkey that this new alliance was aiming to secure a strong presence throughout the country, with Kurdish politicians no longer being marginalized in majority Kurdish areas. This new alliance sought to attract support from Turkey’s Left-wing voters, as well as the country’s Alawite community and other minorities.
Here, we must ask what are the true objectives of Kurdish leaders in Turkey.
HDP co-chairman Ertuğrul Kürkçü said that the decision to ally with the BDP was taken in order to achieve the desires of Turkey’s Kurdish community, adding that these desires are also in line with the will of the Turkish street as a whole. But the subsequent divisions and eventual withdrawal from this alliance are the result of its failure to achieve satisfactory electoral results for the Kurds—not to mention its inability to win the confidence of the Kurdish electorate, with Kurds in southeastern Turkey voting strongly for the AKP.
The political consensus is that Öcalan—who attaches great importance to unifying the Kurdish forces in Turkey and who gave the green light for this alliance project—wants to strengthen the Kurdish position in Turkey to the point that they can compete with the major parties, including the AKP at the forthcoming presidential elections.
However, even a cursory look at the results of the local elections strengthens the general conviction that an “understanding” will emerge between the AKP and Turkey’s Kurds regarding the presidential elections, and that a Recep Tayyip Erdoğan presidency will not unduly upset the Kurds. On the contrary, Erdoğan’s own political gamesmanship and the pledges that he will likely offer the Kurds will be enough to completely organize and run the Turkish political map over the next decade.
It seems that this “understanding” has begun to transform into outright cooperation between the AKP and Turkey’s Kurds regarding reorganizing Turkey’s election law and increasing the number of seats in parliament. This could also grant the AKP the number of seats in parliament required to secure amendments to the constitution.
Turkey’s Kurds want to do more than expand their political parties to non-Kurdish majority regions of Turkey, or present themselves as a political entity across Turkey as a whole. But at this stage, achieving this will be very difficult.
First and foremost, Turkey’s Kurds want to ensure that they have a presence in the Middle East as a whole, playing the role of “big brother” to the Kurdistan regional project. We will see more discussions about this regional project over the next few years, particularly in light of the ongoing situation in Syria and after the Kurds overcome Tehran, which is using the language of persuasion and intimidation with its Kurdish community.
We must now wait and see what the PKK will say. This is the same party that has said, on more than one occasion, that its patience with Ankara over the stalled truce has run out and that it will announce that the peace efforts have failed unless Turkey makes good on its pledges. Will the PKK be made a scapegoat and pay the price for its impatience, or will it emerge from all of these “understandings” and completely reshape the scene?
We must also be aware of the talk linking Öcalan’s name with the Nobel Peace prize. This cannot be a coincidence and, if he should be awarded the Nobel, it will have many implications. Many will not want to see this historic opportunity for both Turkey and its Kurds being squandered, particularly after all of these years of effort.
This decision to ally and unify is nothing new to the Kurdish parties or the people, who have been accustomed to replacing one banner with another since the 1990s. The Kurdish street is well aware that its political leaders possess Left-wing and socialist sensibilities, and that this is not necessarily reflected in reality or the “democratic” slogans that are so often raised.
On the other hand, the Kurdish political leaders themselves know that they will face major problems if they fail to convince their supporters and the Kurdish street, which has grown weary of the game of war and peace that is being played at their expense.
The results of the March elections in Turkey have encouraged the AKP and Kurdish leaders, particularly Öcalan, to continue on the path they first began three years ago. This “understanding” appears to include coordination during the presidential elections and in the post-election period, which will bring a number of political and constitutional surprises. This, in turn, will open the door for greater surprises in the general elections next year.
However Turkey’s Kurds will also be concerned by the new decisive factor on the electoral scene, something that some in the AKP will rely on if the “coordination” project fails. This is the votes of hundreds of thousands of expatriate Turks in Europe and the US: a vote Erdoğan and the AKP will court as the preferred alternative if they cannot rely on their new allies, the BDP and HDP.