Kurds can be kingmakers in Turkey’s elections – Arab Weekly

The votes of Turkey’s Kurdish population will play a pivotal role in twin elections on June 24 wrote Thomas Seibert in the Arab Weekly.

With Kurds constituting around 17% of Turkey’s electorate and the election races closely poised, according to opinion polls, “Kurdish voters could hand victory to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan or prevent the 64-year-old leader from crowning his career by securing far-reaching executive powers, boosted by a parliamentary majority for his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).”

In parliamentary elections the level of support received by the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) will play a critical role in determining whether Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) allies can retain their majority. Should the HDP pass Turkey’s 10% electoral threshold, they are unlikely to do so. But should the HDP fail to do so then, according to Gunes Murat Tezcur, a professor of Kurdish political studies at the University of Central Florida, “most seats [from the Kurdish region] will go to the AKP.”

Similarly in the presidential election, Kurdish votes will likely determine whether Erdogan receives more than the 50% of votes he needs in the first round of voting to avoid a runoff with the second placed candidate.

Despite being in prison since late 2016 the HDP’s candidate, Selahattin Demirtas, may still attract large numbers of votes. “Demirtas will be popular in the Kurdish areas,” Tezcur said. “He can mobilise people because he has strong name recognition.”

To increase its profile, the HDP is also running a number of well-known candidates, amongst them investigative reporter Ahmet Şık and has also announced it will support the opposition Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) candidate Muharrem Ince should the presidential election enter a second round of voting.

Whilst many conservative Kurds have supported Erdoğan and his AKP in previous elections, Seibert suggests Turkey’s recent military operations in Syria, particularly those carried out in Afrin, may negatively affect the share of the Kurdish vote he receives this time around.

Erdoğan himself seems aware of this, having stressed that the Afrin operation was aimed not against Syria’s Kurds but against “terrorists there,” adding, “My Kurdish brothers in this country need to know that we had no quarrel with our Kurdish brothers in Afrin.”

Seibert also suggests the ruling party may suffer in the elections because it lacks “concrete proposals for progress in the Kurdish region, which includes some of Turkey’s poorest districts”.

“Kurdish supporters of Erdogan are extremely unhappy,” Abdullatif Sener, a former deputy prime minister under Erdogan and current opposition candidate for parliament, told the Mezopotamya news agency.

There are also concerns that if the Erdoğan fears losing the Kurdish vote, he may resort to vote manipulation in Turkey’s heavily Kurdish south-east.

“Especially in rural areas, pre-prepared ballots for the AKP and Erdogan can easily be placed (in ballot boxes),” Seibert reports an anonymous Turkish academic as saying.