Jailed Kurdish leader says opposition can unite against Erdoğan

Jailed former co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtaş said that the opposition should unite to defeat President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the next elections.

In a lengthy interview with Cumhuriyet published on Tuesday, Demirtaş said that the HDP does not need a formal alliance for the parliamentary or presidential elections.

But he said that other opposition parties should come together to collaborate with the HDP around democratic principles and solutions, and said that no one can be elected as president in the current system without cooperation.

“In my opinion, it is necessary to reach consensus on a new constitution, a democratic parliamentary system, freedom of association, freedom of expression and a free press, and an independent and impartial judiciary,” he said.

Demirtaş said the opposition is too engaged with Erdoğan’s agenda, and instead needs to come together to form its own solutions to Turkey’s problems by holding open-air forums, meetings, rallies and peaceful protests, and engaging directly with the public.

“Any peaceful demonstration is both a constitutional right and a guarantee of a democratic opposition,” he said. “The opposition should take care not to break with the public.”

The Kurdish politician has been in prison since November 2016 for his alleged links to terrorism and faces multiple life sentences if found guilty. Demirtaş is among scores of Kurdish politicians who have been ousted from their positions or jailed on the same charges.

Last month, Turkey’s Constitutional Court ruled that his lengthy imprisonment violated his rights to freedom and had exceeded a reasonable period.

He told Cumhuriyet that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) had changed Turkey’s political system through a “shock doctrine” approach since the 2016 failed coup attempt but that it could not establish a sustainable system of governance, and that “70 percent of the society is against the one-man regime”.

Demirtaş is known for his vocal criticism of Erdoğan and was a key contributor to the party’s successes, preventing the AKP from winning a legislative majority in elections in 2015. The polls were re-run later the same year. The HDP's election performance in 2018 also prevented an AKP majority.

Turkey accuses Demirtaş and many other officials of the HDP of links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), accusations they all deny. The PKK has been fighting for Kurdish autonomy for four decades in a conflict that has cost almost 40,000 lives. The group is labelled as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

Demirtaş was reluctant to be drawn on questions over Kurdish nationalism in the Cumhuriyet interview, but he likened the plight of Kurds in Turkey to the movement for racial justice and equality in the United States and the killing of George Floyd, an African-American, by police.

He said that the biggest problem facing Turkey and the globe was capitalism.

“Today, the biggest cause of poverty, unemployment, hunger, misery, death, wars and exploitation is the neoliberal capitalist system. The only antidote to capitalism is socialism,” he said.