Turkish opposition must work with disgruntled AKP members, pro-Kurd MP says

Turkish opposition parties must put aside their own squabbles and find common ground with each other and disgruntled members of the ruling party to unseat President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as “the future of 80 million people is at stake”, opposition member of parliament Hüda Kaya told Ahval.

Turkey is facing municipal elections in March next year, a prelude to key parliamentary and presidential elections by November 2018, after which whoever becomes president will take over sweeping executive powers from the national assembly.

Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) narrowly won a constitutional referendum to make the changes in April last year, but with rising inflation and unemployment may struggle to repeat the election successes that have returned it to power since 2002. Cracks are also beginning to show within the AKP, as sidelined former Erdoğan allies appear to be looking to mount a possible challenge to the president.

“The AKP members who see that the party’s trajectory has taken a turn for the worse must find a way to meet on common ground,” Kaya said in an interview.

“In fact, the last 16 years of oppression have been fed by the fact that such common ground has evaded us. That the opposition circles have occupied themselves with their petty differences has helped bring us through 16 years of oppression to the situation today,” she said.

Kaya, a member of parliament for the pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), rose to prominence as an activist against the ban on Islamic headscarves in universities in the late 1990s. Jailed along with three of her daughters for writing and demonstrating against the since-repealed ban, Kaya became a darling of Turkey’s Islamist groups that gave rise to the AKP and helped it to power in 2002 on promises of replacing the corrupt secular elite with a new era of justice.

“The most basic principle I learned from the Quran is justice”, Kaya said. “So, the day came when we were facing a government that called itself religious and conservative, and from the first, we saw from where we stood how things started to turn sour.”

The cronyism of the AKP was one thing, Kaya said, but the turning point for her came when Turkish warplanes bombed a group of Kurdish villagers near the village of Roboski on the border with Iraq in December 2011, killing 34 people.

“At that time Gaza was being bombed, and we were protesting for the women and children there. At the same time, the public in Turkey stood up for the women and children in Syria. But, when 34 innocent people were slaughtered, three-quarters of them children under 18 years old … this really made us feel all the worse,” she said.

The AKP government, Kaya said, had exploited public fear after the conflict with the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) resumed in July 2015 and 109 people were killed by an Islamic State suicide bomb in Ankara three months later. Using what she term “project fear”, Erdoğan’s AKP regained the parliamentary majority in general elections in November 2015 that it had lost in polls the previous June, she said.  

Now, she said, the AKP was using fear of the threat from its erstwhile allies among the banned Islamist Fethullah Gülen movement, accused of carrying out the failed 2016 coup, to consolidate its support ahead of the elections next year. Tens of thousands of people have been arrested and more have been sacked since a state of emergency was declared in the wake of the abortive putsch.

Kaya said the AKP had the support of at most 30 percent of the electorate and that even with its current alliance with far-right nationalists, the ruling party would struggle in the polls.

“Just as they formed an artificial alliance with the Gülen movement and that broke up, I think their latest alliance too is artificial and interest-based,” Kaya said.

Some former senior figures within the AKP have begun to be more critical of Erdoğan after being sidelined by the president. But, Kaya said, there were still more disgruntled members of the party who were as yet too scared to show their true beliefs.

“We know that there are those AKP members who will not show any criticism or opposition, but who are still uncomfortable with the party’s trajectory. They may parrot their support of the president outwardly, but inwardly they are extremely pessimistic.”