The MetroPoll research company’s latest “Turkey’s Pulse” poll included an election scenario for the Presidential election to be held in 2023, asking what would happen if the first round of the election were held between three candidates rather than two. The six opposition parties have allied for the election, however, the Kurdish-issue-focused People’s Democracy Party (HDP) is not on the six-party table. It has been hinted that they would support the name against Erdoğan in the second round of the presidential election. The candidacy strategies are among the first topics of Turkish domestic politics lately.
However, MetroPoll’s research indicates that the HDP can support the candidacy of its former co-chairman Selahattin Demirtaş, who has been held in prison for five years. In this scenario, in the first round of the presidential election, which requires a candidate to collect at least 50 percent of the total votes to be elected, none of the nominees, including President Erdoğan can collect the votes to become the president, and elections will definitely go for the second round. In the three-candidate scenario, if the first round is to be held on time on June 18 2023, and no one is elected, the runoff could be held on July 2, 2023, between the top two candidates. In the second round, the candidate with the majority of the vote wins.
Journalist Murat Sabuncu disclosed a piece of important background information on his co-op on June 13, stating that if the opposition alliance the six-party table would nominate İYİ Party’s leader Meral AKşener or Ankara Metropolitan Mayor Mansur Yavaş, the HDP would not support them and nominate their own candidate. This decision was already conveyed to the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP). The HDP told the opposition table “if you would like to win, you have to come to an agreement with us”. The statement was like a memorandum.
Gemlik March and Demirtaş’s letter
The day before Sabuncu’s article, on June 12, the police force was alarmed. It was to prevent a march which was organized to protest the isolation of the imprisoned founding leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), Abdullah Öcalan at İmralı Prison. This was the march that Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu talked about on the Kanal-D TV broadcast on June 15 as he said that they blocked it after receiving the intelligence that the order had been conveyed from the PKK administration to the HDP administration a month ago. The march was largely blocked.
On the same day, the T24 online news portal published an article penned by Demirtaş. He did not mention these at all in his article which was rather focused on the presidential candidacy discussion. Erdoğan has just declared that he will be the candidate of the ruling block and defied CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu to announce the opposition’s candidate. According to Demirtaş, Erdoğan will not be a candidate to avoid “entering into an election which he would lose” but he is buying time to make a withdrawal manoeuvre.
Personally, I don’t give much credit to scenarios that speculate on early elections in the fall or predict that Erdoğan will not be a candidate. What is important here is Demirtaş’s ongoing efforts and emphasis to stay as the “politician of Türkiye”.
HDP is wasting a great opportunity
However, HDP does not have the same sensitivity. Addressing the HDP Parliamentary Group the day before Demirtaş’s article was published, co-chair Mithat Sancar opened the bargaining table for HDP’s presidential elections, and focused his speech on the Gemlik march for Öcalan. Known as the voice of supporters of “Türkiye Politics” within the HDP, Sancar touched upon Öcalan’s statement in 2019 “I can eliminate the conflict within a week” as a basis for the ongoing campaign for Öcalan in Türkiye and Europe.
Is it now clearer why Demirtaş has more support than HDP in the polls? Or, why, for example, does the HDP campaign for Öcalan’s freedom but not for Demirtaş’s in a way that will lay the groundwork for all the Nationalist Movement Party’s (MHP) claims?
Whether the HDP’s manoeuvre was due to PKK’s pressure or by its own will, it is almost like an attempt to cut off the branch of legitimacy just before the Constitutional Court is expected to issue the report on the party’s closure case in September. It is a step in parallel with the radicalism of the PKK’s Qandil headquarters which questions HDP’s presence in the Grand National Assembly of Türkiye.
HDP is on its way to recklessly squandering its claim to be a “Party of Turkey” and with it the opportunity to raise the quality of democracy in Türkiye hrough this election.
Error in analysis: The conflict is no longer in Türkiye
In addition, Sancar’s claim that “Öcalan can end the conflict” is far from making “a tangible analysis of material conditions”. Currently, the main conflict between the PKK and security forces largely swept beyond Türkiye’s borders into the territory of Iraq and Syria.
It seems that the PKK’s power of action within the borders of Türkiye has been broken, which has amassed almost all its human resources, militants, and armed resources into Syria and Iraq on the grounds of fighting against ISIS, in the hope that the USA will support them for an independent Kurdish state. Especially within the framework of the “fight at the source” doctrine that started after the 2016 coup attempt, the army, police and intelligence triangle marginalized the action ability of some PKK derivatives or some armed Turkish left organizations.
PKK executive Murat Karayılan’s call to those living in areas under PKK/YPG control in Syria on 1 June to “not withdraw, even without the use of weapons,” is like an admission of distress in the face of cross-border operation (which is now Russia also stands against) pressure by Türkiye.
Any action to be initiated after this stage is doomed to be stigmatized only by terrorism, both inside and outside.
Does HDP hope for Öcalan bargaining?
I said inside and outside because this issue is the key point of Türkiye’s condition for approving the NATO membership of Sweden and Finland, which came to NATO’s agenda after the Russia-Ukraine war. Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu recently rejected NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg’s commitment “against PKK terrorism” on behalf of Sweden and Finland, on the grounds that “it was not a concrete step”. Stoltenberg has declared previously that he found Türkiye’s concerns justified.
It does not seem possible for the USA to continue its Syria-PKK policy, which prevents a strategic equation against Russia, just like NATO’s enlargement.
While the material conditions are as such, the reading between the lines of Sancar’s speech indicates that one of the conditions, maybe the primary one, that HDP will impose on the presidential candidacy negotiations will be Öcalan’s condition.
Opposition cannot promise that
It was known that during the 2012-2015 dialogue period with the PKK, the Erdoğan government had started a construction project on the İmralı Island where Öcalan has been incarcerated, to transform the prison into an open prison for Öcalan and his companions. The opposition coalition of the six parties does not have the power to ensure or even signal that. They also do not have the political agreement to make that promise. Only Erdoğan can.
Assuming Erdoğan made such a promise to preserve his power, what would he say to his ally MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli to whom he owes his power?
That’s why I ask “Is the HDP hoping for Öcalan bargaining now?”
HDP might misuse its leverages but it will not be the sole loser this time.