The Kemalist CHP and the Kurdish HDP

Decision time for Turkeyʹs opposition

Will the CHP take Imamogluʹs success in the re-run of the Istanbul mayoral elections, achieved through the support of the HDP, as an opportunity to finally abandon its rigid attitude towards the Kurds? By Gulistan Gurbey

The Republican People’s Party (CHP) was able to win the mayoral election in Istanbul (31 March and 23 June 2019) and at the same time experienced how important co-operation with the Kurdish-progressive Peopleʹs Democratic Party (HDP) is to generate political strength.

It should be emphasised that the support of the HDP was decisive for the CHP's victory. Indeed, their support made CHP's victory possible in the first place: the HDP did not nominate its own candidates in major West Turkish cities in order to help CHP candidates win the elections. Moreover, the HDP party leadership called for CHP candidates to be elected. This ensured that Ekrem Imamoglu also received the votes of many Kurdish voters in Istanbul. Of the some 4.6 million votes that Imamoglu received, 911,000 were HDP votes.

The repeat of the mayoral election in Istanbul on 23 June 2019 was characterised by a fierce struggle for the Kurdish vote. Both the CHP and the ruling Party for Justice and Development (AKP) tried to win them over, paying particular attention to the non-voters (more than 1.5 million) and the Kurdish voters. The AKP did not focus its strategy on large-scale rallies, but aimed specifically to solicit these votes on the ground, e.g. through home visits.

In order to send a positive signal in the competition for Kurdish voters, the government abruptly lifted the eleven-year ban on visiting the lawyers of Abdullah Ocalan, leader of the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and imprisoned since 1999, at the beginning of May. For the first time in eleven years, Ocalanʹs lawyers were able to visit the Kurdish detainee.

Kurds celebrate their New Year – Newroz – on 24.03.2019 in Istanbul (photo: DW/Fatih Pınar)
Victorious, thanks to the HDP: the support of the Kurdish-progressive Peopleʹs Democratic Party (HDP) was crucial to the CHPʹs recent victory. Desirous of not splitting the vote, the HDP not only decided not to nominate its own candidates in major West Turkish cities, it also called on its supporters in those areas without an HDP candidate to vote for the CHP. As a result, Ekrem Imamoglu received much of the Kurdish vote in Istanbul. Well over a fifth of the some 4.6 million who voted for Imamoglu were HDP

Shortly before the elections on 23 June, the AKP government once again played the "Kurdish card": a statement by Ocalan, in which he allegedly called on the Kurds to be neutral, was issued in order to influence the HDP voters. Nevertheless, the AKP still did not succeed in winning the election. The CHP candidate, Ekrem Imamoglu, emerged as the clear winner with a lead of around 9 percent (Imamoglu: 54 percent, Binali Yildirim: 45 percent).

The CHP's electoral success triggered an atmosphere of optimism within the party. At the same time, pressure on the CHP has increased because its success has also raised expectations among the population, and the HDP is now hoping for more support in the Kurdish cause.

The HDP: a key factor in the balance

The electoral success of the CHP also revealed the role of the HDP as a key factor in the balance: despite its status as a Kurdish-regional party, the HDP has become a vital component and can no longer be ignored. A legal political party and the third strongest opposition faction in the Turkish parliament, the HDP has suffered state repression for years, with the result that it has been significantly weakened and is hardly capable of acting independently.

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