Just election in Turkey not possible, says imprisoned Kurdish candidate
Turkey Just election in Turkey not possible, says imprisoned Kurdish candidate
From prison cell in Edirne, Selahattin DemirtaÅ urges citizens to vote against one-man rule by ErdoÄan
Dressed in a suit and burgundy tie, Selahattin DemirtaÅ addressed his supporters through Turkeyâs state-run TV . He urged citizens to vote against one-man rule by Recep Tayyip ErdoÄan and his ruling party, the AKP, whom he described as bullies.
But there was one difference between all the other presidential candidates and DemirtaÅ, once dubbed the Kurdish Obama and leader of a persecuted leftwing party focused on Kurdish and minority rights.
He was addressing his supporters from his cell at a maximum-security prison in Edirne, where he is standing trial over alleged terrorism offences.Bully-boy ErdoÄan is a threat to Turkey â" and the world | Simon Tisdall Read more
âI am answering your interview questions from prison; how can it be fair?â said DemirtaÅ in an interview with the Guardian, conducted through his lawyers. âBecause of the state of emergency, fear has taken over the population. ErdoÄan conducts a campaign with the whole power of the state, media almost fully under his order. A just election race is not possible.â
Turkish c itizens vote on Sunday in arguably the most crucial presidential and parliamentary elections in the republicâs modern history. Kurdish voters, who make up 15-20% of the population, have emerged as kingmakers once again and could end the AKPâs 16-year parliamentary majority and bruise ErdoÄan, Turkeyâs most powerful politician.
The winner of the presidency will assume sweeping new powers narrowly approved in a referendum last year. Reliable polls are rare in Turkey, but on average they appear to predict that ErdoÄan will win the vote in a second-round contest against Muharrem Ä°nce, the opposition candidate from the secular Republican Peopleâs party (CHP).
The parliamentary elections are more complicated, with two main coalitions facing off against each other. ErdoÄanâs AKP is allied with the nationalist party, the MHP. The opposition has united in a grand coalition, which includes secularists, Islamists and breakaway nationalists, to improve its chances o f picking up parliamentary seats.
DemirtaÅâs Peoplesâ Democratic party (HDP) is not in any alliance, and therefore needs to get at least 10% of the national vote to enter parliament.
âThere is an immense will for change in Turkey,â he said. âPeople are fed up with the tyranny of the AKP government and see the elections as an opportunity to express it.â
Few can accurately predict who the Kurdish-majority areas will turn out for in the election, where votes are generally divided between DemirtaÅ and ErdoÄanâs parties.
Many are angered by Erdoganâs alliance with hardline nationalists who want a military and security response to Turkeyâs Kurdish rights movement or its separatist insurgency. They are also unnerved by Erdoganâs military forays into neighbouring Syria, where earlier this year he ordered a campaign into the majority-Kurdish enclave of Afrin.
The offensive was publicly aimed at dislodging Kurdish militias in the area, but opponents of the government say it has a darker purpose of engineering demographic change in the region.
Others say Kurdish voters are likely to reward ErdoÄan for the calm that has prevailed in the countryâs south-eastern region. There was renewed violence in the area between 2013 and 2015 after the collapse of the peace process but this dwindled over the last two years amid a security-oriented response by the government.
ErdoÄanâs rhetoric, that Kurds and Turks are united by faith and under one nation, has re mained unchanged, but he has pursued a second track of vilifying the HDP as terrorist sympathisers, and the government has arrested hundreds of party cadres, mayors and MPs, including the two chairs of the party.
âThe security policies in the cities, the arrests of the MPs Kurdish people vote for, the mayors put in jail, the newspapers and TVs were shut down,â said Ayhan Bilgen, an HDP MP and spokesman. âTherefore the Kurdish people will give a veto [against ErdoÄan] as their answer in this election. Policies to date do not comprise any positive expectation or hope for the coming period.â
Fahrettin Altun, an expert at SETA, a thinktank with ties to the government, said Kurdish voters would back ErdoÄan. âThe main issue for them is peace in the region, not in the narrative,â he said. âThe PKK is not in the south-eastern region of Turkey at the moment and thatâs a very important issue which is sometimes not being able to understand by outsider analysts. But the people living in the south-eastern region are very happy with this process.â
There are signs ErdoÄan is increasingly fearful of losing votes to the HDP. He was surreptitiously filmed at a party meeting in Istanbul urging supporters to do âspecial workâ to defeat the HDP, in what was interpreted by some observers as urging election fraud and voter intimidation.
The opposition candidates for the presidency have courted Kurdish voters, saying they would put Kurdish rights issues in parliament for a vote and would support previously lightning rod issues such as Kurdish-language instruction in schools. All of them called for DemirtaÅâs release from jail during the race for the presidency.
For DemirtaÅ, in his prison cell in Edirne, the evidence of oppression is all too clear in the arrests of him and his colleagues. He has used his 10 minutes of phone calls a week with his wife to conduct virtual rallies, and his image at his desk in prison, cup of tea nearby, smiling alongside a pile of books, has energised supporters.
âIt symbolises the anti-democratic practices and the oppression on all fronts including the judiciary by the ErdoÄan and the AKP government,â he said of his presidential run. âIt is also [the] ErdoÄan government that manages the process that leads to the arrests of me and thousands of my friends unjustly and lawlessly for political reasons.â
He added: âTurkish society is strong and determinedly walking towards democracy. Turkey does not consist of ErdoÄan.â
- Recep Tayyip ErdoÄan
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