Turkey’s recent local government elections that resulted in the governing party losing control of several major cities, including Ankara and Istanbul, has been labeled as “a humiliating defeat for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“Erdogan, who rightly viewed the elections as a referendum on his rule, suffered a humiliating defeat. His party lost control of five of the largest cities in the country, including his home city of Istanbul, where he launched his political career,” said Selahattin Demirtas, the imprisoned former co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), in an article penned by him for Washington Post, published on Friday.
Demirtas said the March 31 election results showed that Erdogan’s ruling AK Party had fallen further away “not only from democracy but also from true Islamic values and morality” in recent years.
Pointing out to the crackdown endured by his fellow party members, Demirtas suggested that his party gained a huge success in the polls in spite of obstacles put up by the government.
In order to hammer a way out of the economic crisis facing Turkey, Demirtas contended that the country needed to “urgently implement democratic political reform.”
“The past record of the political establishment, centered around Erdogan, suggests that it does not have the will, capacity or courage to do so,” argued the jailed leader. He underlined the worsening polarization in Turkish society caused by Erdogan’s “divisive” policies.
The pro-Kurdish politician suggested that in order to avoid the brewing conflicts in the region Turkey, “must strive for unity and social cohesion,” and, “can achieve this end only by rallying around the principles of peace and democracy.”
Demirtas also mentioned the solitary confinement imposed on the jailed leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Abdullah Ocalan.
Referring to the activists who protest the prison conditions of the PKK chief, Demirtas said, “Many activists, both inside and outside prison (including Leyla Guven, one of our party’s members of parliament), are on a hunger strike. The sole demand of the strikers is an end to the absolute isolation of Abdullah Ocalan. Ocalan has been held in a prison on the island of Imrali for 20 years, under harsh conditions that do not even allow him visits from his lawyers or family members.”
Ocalan’s critical role
Demirtas argued that hunger strikers persistence in their activism stems from their belief in Ocalan’s role in striking a deal for peace between PKK and Ankara.
Stressing the Ocalan’s influence on the Kurds of Turkey and Syria, Demirtas said: “It is safe to say that no peace process can be ultimately successful without Ocalan’s participation — which is why, several years ago, Erdogan himself explored options for peace with the PKK leader. A significant portion of the Kurdish people regard Ocalan as a vital interlocutor.”
Alluding to the key role Kurdish voters played in the latest polls, Demirtas called on Erdogan to come to terms with Turkey’s needs regarding peace and democracy, or brace for a “final blow” in the next elections.
The imprisoned politician said: “We will create a country with a strong democracy and economy by bringing together all factions of our society. The March 31 elections have shown us the way.”
Selahattin Demirtas has been imprisoned since 2016 on terrorism charges and ran for the presidency from his prison cell in 2018. Calls for his release have been roundly ignored by the Erdogan regime.