With only 5 HDP mayors left in office, what future for the pro-Kurdish party?

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is slowly moving to consolidate his grip on power by removing the last of the opposition People’s Democratic Party’s (HDP) elected officials, the Guardian has reported.

Adalet Fidan is the mayor of Silopi and one of only 5 out of 65 HDP mayors elected in 2019 who are still in their post after the government has arrested many and accused them of involvement with the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

She told the Guardian that “It’s a lot of pressure and responsibility. Every day I wake up and worry it will happen to me too: I think, ‘Today is my turn’... The law doesn’t mean anything here. I could be kicked out of my job or sent to jail thanks to made-up terrorism charges or fake witnesses. Anything could happen.”

Hasip Kaplan, a Kurdish lawyer and politician from Şırnak, said that he had not seen behaviour as ruthless as that displayed by the current Turkish government even after the 1980 military coup and the purges which followed it.

“At the time of previous coups, we could at least defend our clients in court. Today, there is a government that is seeking control of the independent bar associations, judges with no experience appointed to high courts. These are difficult days,” Kaplan said.

The HDP’s electoral success in 2015 made the party a prime target for government repression. Overcoming the 10% threshold for the party to win seats in the Grand National assembly also meant denying Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party the majority they had previously enjoyed in parliament. If they drop below this threshold at the next scheduled general election in 2023, the AKP could win back total legislative control and would no longer need their Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) coalition partner.

Kaplan told the Guardian that up to 16,000 HDP members have been arrested or detained, many under emergency legislation imposed following the failed 2016 coup attempt. The Guardian’s Turkey correspondent Bethan McKernan writes that “Erdoğan appears to think that instead of banning the party altogether, keeping it inside the legitimate political spectrum can help him scupper the opposition’s attempts at a united front”.

The new Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), which launched in Diyarbakir last month, is believed to be funded by pro-government sources, in an attempt to take some votes away from the HDP. Many Kurds, as many as 29% according to a Metropoll figure, still support the governing AKP, but there remains a stubborn residual support for the HDP which does not seem to be going away despite the party’s situation.

If the Turkish government does ban the HDP before the next elections, it would not be the first time that a pro-Kurdish party had been banned in Turkey. The Democratic Society Party was banned in 2009, and was a successor to another pro-Kurdish party, HADEP, which was banned in 2003. In turn, HADEP succeeded the Democracy Party, which succeeded the People’s Labour Party. Every major left wing, pro-Kurdish party in Turkey has been banned since the 1990s.

Those still representing the HDP have vowed to keep fighting for Kurdish rights, no matter the repression they endure. Kurdish politicians in Turkey have always known that the state will try its best to sideline their ambitions for greater rights and autonomy, and Adalet Fidan told the Guardian that “We always knew this job would be difficult. But we also know we have the people behind us. That gives us the courage to keep fighting.”