Turkey chose unity over polarization in polls: Jailed pro-Kurdish leader

Former co-leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtas, who has been in prison on terror charges since 2016, has said that local election results show Turkish people’s choice of unity over political polarization, BBC Turkish reported on Monday.

Demirtas has given an interview to Mahmut Hamsici of BBC Turkish via his attorneys and said the March 31 elections resulted in the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)’s defeat in many major cities because people chose democracy and unity over political polarization.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s policies and discourse during the election campaign led to worry about increasing political polarization, Demirtas argued. “The AKP lost some very important municipalities when those who were worried about the one-man rule [executive presidency] came together in the opposing bloc. There’s also the fact the AKP’s vote percentage dropped to around 30 percent,” he added.

Emphasizing the effect of Kurdish voters in the local election outcome, Demirtas said they have become a key determinant in Turkish politics. Pro-Kurdish HDP sat out the mayoral races in big cities and urged its supporters to cast strategic votes for the Nation Alliance, formed by the opposition parties as part of its political strategy in Turkey’s west.

The main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) was able to defeat the governing AKP candidates in a number of major cities, including Turkey’s business hub Istanbul and capital Ankara, partly due to HDP’s strategy.

“If Erdogan persists in his policies based on oppression and authoritarianism, he will continue to rapidly lose people’s support. If he tends towards democratic reforms and abandons oppression, he might have a chance to regain [the votes of] his original supporters. Otherwise, we might witness a deeper economic crisis,” the pro-Kurdish leader warned.

When asked if he agreed with criticism towards CHP for not being thankful enough for HDP’s support in the local elections, he said: “Our supporters cast their votes so as to create a chance at democracy and peace [in Turkey], not to receive thanks from the CHP. Municipalities run by the CHP do not owe us anything, but they owe fair, equal, transparent and democratic ruling to all people.”

Demirtas urged the main opposition to come up with bold policies and solutions to maintain democracy and peace in Turkey, as it suits their social democrat identity.

“That is the most urgent need and expectation of not just HDP supporters but all members of the society,” he emphasized.

The pro-Kurdish leader claimed last week’s attack on CHP chairman Kemal Kilicdaroglu was a government-backed operation aimed to threaten the main opposition head.

Dozens of men attacked Kılıcdaroglu on April 21, during a fallen soldier’s funeral in Ankara in what the CHP members call “a lynch attempt” against their leader.

“It is obvious this was an operation to make him pay a price. Lynching incidences such as this one cannot occur without government’s support or overlooking,” Demirtas claimed.

The pro-Kurdish leader also said on the newly-appointed Istanbul Municipality Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu from the CHP, saying that his inclusive discourse is so crucial and meaningful in doing politics.

“All the people in the country can benefit from policies that respect social differences. But it’s not enough to just talk about it. This kind of policies must be put into practice. I wish that Imamoglu persists in the politics of unity within democracy and not submit to polarizing and marginalizing oppression and threats,” he stated.

When he was asked about the allegations that increasing vote rate of the ruling AKP in eastern and southeastern Turkey is due to the government’s oppressive policies? the jailed leader claimed that AKP’s oppression was wide open.

“They didn’t even felt the need to hide it. There was no democratic election environment. These elections took place while more than 5,000 HDP administrators and members were in jail, let’s not forget that,” BBC Turkish quoted Demirtas as saying.

The pro-Kurdish leader was also asked about whether HDP lawmaker Leyla Guven or hundreds of other hunger strikers should end their protest. “I support the demand conveyed through the protest, even though I do not support the hunger strike itself.

Asking [from the government] to lift the isolation on Ocalan is, at the same time, an attempt towards peace. It would not be morally correct for me to ask them to continue their hunger strike. But if I force them to end it, then they can’t get results,” he argued.

The former HDP leader added he wishes Kurdish people’s demand to be heard and the hunger strikes to end before anyone else dies. HDP lawmaker Guven initiated on November 2018, what she described as a partial and indefinite hunger strike with the demand the isolation by the Turkish government imposed on Abdullah Ocalan, the imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), be lifted.

Ocalan has not been allowed to see any family members since September 2016, and his lawyers since 2011.

The number of Kurdish inmates and HDP lawmakers across Turkey, who have been participating in the strike in solidarity with MP Guven, is increasing day by
day. So far, seven inmates have committed suicide for the same cause.

On Sunday, Turkish Parliament Speaker Mustafa Sentop rejected a recent call by the pro-Kurdish HDP to visit Guven, arguing that it’s not right to have demands about a convicted “terrorist” leader’s conditions in prison.

Demirtas went on to say comment on the recent clash between the Turkish army and the outlawed PKK near the Iraqi border that left four soldiers dead. “We have never adopted or supported violence and guns as a practice. We have tried many times to establish peace and end the clashes that have been causing great pain for 40 years. Unfortunately, we failed, and I’m very sorry for that,” he said, offering his condolences to the families of the fallen soldiers.

PKK has waged a decades-long insurgency in Turkey’s southeast since the 1980s. The pro-Kurdish HDP is accused by the government of being linked to the PKK.

Although HDP denies the allegations, several party seniors that include Demirtas, have been in prison on various charges that include managing a terrorist organization.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) called on Demirtas’ release in November 2018, but Turkish courts have not implemented that decision.

Turkish judiciary ‘slandering, lying and plotting’ – jailed pro-Kurdish leader lashes out

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