Will HDP’s closure serve the Turkey’s government?

The parliament’s third biggest party HDP is under threat of closure with pressures of the MHP. But will the closure of a political party serve the ruling alliance in their pursuit of power? (Photo: Presidency)

When I say government, I do not mean just Justice and Development Party (AKP), ruling the country solely since 2002. However, it is a known fact that President Tayyip Erdoğan owes his presidency to Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli who supported the ruling party by forming the “People’s Alliance”. The nationalist party has influenced the alliance since the 2017 referendum that settled the new presidential system with the constitutional amendment. Now, the case for the closure of the Kurdish-issue focused People’s Democratic Party (HDP) is before the Constitutional Court’s decision, and it was MHP’s push brought the issue at this point.

I am not saying that the AKP administration and Erdogan did not adopt this idea of the MHP, even if it was with unease. On the contrary, the security lobby, whose spokesman is Süleyman Soylu, the Minister of Interior Affairs, seems to have adopted this idea due to the recent success of the security forces against the active troops of the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK). Some members of the AKP think that the closure of the HDP will further alienate the Kurdish voters already distanced from the ruling party due to the alliance with the MHP. However they do not speak up either for fear of being stigmatized as “divisive among us” or because of cynicism. The AKP government, which only a few years ago indirectly carried out relations with the PKK and relied on the HDP’s mediation, now sees the survival of its rule in the closure of the HDP. Under this, there may be a desire to redesign the political scene.

At what stage the HDP closure case is?

In November, HDP presented their defence to the Constitutional Court (AYM). The AYM Rapporteur will present a report to the delegation, and the oral proceedings will begin.

The AYM had unanimously rejected the closure indictment in March 2021, finding it incomplete. One meaning of this was that it was prepared hastily, perhaps due to political concerns. Bekir Şahin, the Chief Public Prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals, who started his post in June 2020, prepared an adapted indictment under the intense pressure of the MHP and sent the closure case file to the AYM again.

For this reason, eyes are now on the decision of the AYM judges.

The AKP itself had experienced a closure threat in 2008 when the Supreme Court of Appeals initiated a lawsuit against the ruling party for carrying out “anti-secular activities.” They escaped the closure with AYM members’ rule, where allegedly Gülen Movement has intervened the process. The case was a trigger for the 2010 constitutional amendment referendum, in which requirements and procedures for closing a political party have been changed. Now, 10 of the 15 members of the top court has to rule for closure when the case is presented to them.

The Constitutional Court under pressure

The AYM has been under severe pressure for a while. It’s not just about HDP. There is also the case of Osman Kavala, who has been in detention for five years as of January 17; likewise, the HDP’s predecessor co-chairman, Selahattin Demirtaş, whose detention also has passed for five years. At the extreme pressure point, there was Bahçeli’s statement said, “If it (AYM) does not close the HDP, let’s close the AYM”. To close AYM perhaps needs a constitutional change. The AKP-MHP’s “People’s Alliance” does not have at least 360 votes required to question the Constitution, and the possibility of such a change is almost negligible, at least until the next election. But the intent and the threat are apparent.

There are rumours that 5 of the 15 members of the Constitutional Court were appointed by Abdullah Gül, including President Zühtü Arslan, and that those members will vote against the shutdown. This is indirect pressure. President Erdogan’s aimed to exert a more substantial influence on the top court when he appointed Istanbul Chief Prosecutor İrfan Fidan to the AYM within two months in his Court of Appeals post.

Fragile balances and the Bar Associations

With the constitutional amendment taken in effect in 2017 referendum, the configuration of the AYM has also been changed. The number of members of the top court reduced to 15 from 17  as the president appoints twelve members, while the Parliament appoints three. 

The term of office of Celal Mümtaz Akıncı, one of the three members of the AYM appointed by the Parliament, expires on January 31. One of the candidates that Parliament appoints is selected from the Court of Accounts, and the other two are chosen from three candidates that Bar Associations would nominate. The Parliament then votes for the member among three.  

The Bar associations presented their three nominees, however among the names, none of them was from the list of the Turkish Bar Associations head Erdinç Sağkan, who has just been elected by overthrowing AKP-supported Metin Feyzioğlu. Diyarbakır Bar Association member Zülal Erdoğan Bilal, who was nominated with the initiative of 13 bar associations in the East and Southeast, is unlikely to receive the parliamentary vote. Erzurum Bar Association President Talat Gogebakan is known to have a nationalist-conservative point of view. On the other hand, the third candidate, Kenan Yaşar, President of Çorum Bar Association, has been a candidate for Parliament from the AKP before and does not hide his political views. Therefore, he has a high chance of being elected. Judicial reporter Alican Uludağ thinks this will increase Erdoğan’s weight in the Constitutional Court’s delegation.

So, how did Bar Associations choose these names? There are two answers: the first is that they only played a regulatory role in the election, but the conservative candidates stood out due to the internal conflicts of the secular, Kemalist, progressive and leftist groups. Just like the election of Tayyip Erdoğan in Istanbul and Melih Gökçek in Ankara in the 1995 local elections.

Possible scenarios for HDP’s closure

In addition to the closure of the HDP, Şahin’s indictment also called for a ban of its 451 HDP politicians to be involved in political activities, including its co-chairs Pervin Buldan and Mithat Sancar.

This demand makes even the experienced lawyers of the AKP say, “It is too much”, but Bahçeli’s wish is like this. It is known that the MHP could not accept the fact that the number of HDP members in the Parliament has been more than that of MHP as of the June 7, 2015, elections.

One of the possible scenarios would be that HDP deputies will enrol to the Democratic Regions Party (DBP) and go to the election under that party. There is also the scenario of being elected as an independent deputy and forming a parliamentary group.

Perhaps Erdoğan and Bahçeli are waiting for the HDP to express their support for the CHP, thus causing a rift between the CHP and the IYI Party. Even Erdogan’s implication of using the imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan against Demirtaş and the HDP points to this. This is politics, anything can happen.

There is one thing I can guess, though. That is, HDP voters will not say, “Let’s all vote for the AKP, which closed our party.” Am I wrong or not?

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