May 11 2018

Presidential candidate jailed in Turkey could be “Kurdish Mandela” – analyst

The jailed presidential candidate of a pro-Kurdish political party could become a focal point of opposition to Turkish President Recep Erdoğan in June 24 elections, international relations professor and long-term Turkey expert Henri Barkey wrote for Foreign Policy magazine.

Former Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) leader Selahattin Demirtaş was nominated as the party’s presidential candidate despite being in solitary confinement in a high security prison where he facing a string of terrorism charges.

“The case against Demirtaş is part of a larger effort to decapitate the leadership of Turkey’s Kurdish movement and halt the rise of a reasonable, popular, and moderate leader,” Barkey wrote.

“It is possible that voters who deserted the HDP after June 2015 and new ones who know that the traditional opposition parties cannot defeat Erdoğan will cast their votes for Demirtaş as the most effective method of registering their anger at the country’s autocratic leader.”

The HDP has been on the receiving end of a frantic campaign ever since its entry into parliament prevented the government getting a parliamentary majority in June 2015. Numerous HDP deputies have been imprisoned and dismissed, Barkey said, and a third of the party’s members have also been detained.

“Like Mandela, who in his famous 1964 Rivonia trial speech drew on his extensive legal training to directly refute several of the prosecution’s key allegations, Demirtaş, ever the lawyer, has also sought to systematically deconstruct the state’s case against him,” Barkey said.

“His command of the law together with a detailed defence is designed to undermine the Turkish government’s mantra on the independence of the judiciary.”

But with Kurds making up only 18–20 percent of the Turkish population, in comparison to 80 percent of the South African population being black African, the comparison may end there.