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What does the Turkish electorate think about HDP?

As the mainly Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party works to appeal to all segments of society, MEE inquires as to the electorate's views on HDP
HDP election stand in Istanbul's Kadikoy District on 19 May (MEE/Cagri Ozdemir)

The upcoming 7 June elections will be a decisive moment for Turkish politics. On one hand, it will be a testing moment for the Justice and Development Party (AKP) under the new leadership of Ahmet Davutoglu, especially in the wake of Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ascension to the presidency.

On the other hand, the country is witnessing the efforts of the Kurdish political movement to become a nationwide force and shape up the current outlook of Turkish politics. The 10-percent election threshold is the biggest obstacle for the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) acquiring a fair representation in the parliament.

For this reason, HDP is campaigning to become a party for the whole country, working to embrace all of its citizens, rather than boosting a Kurdish-centric agenda. Although Selahattin Demirtas, the current co-chairperson of the party was HDP's candidate during the presidential elections of August 2014 where he acquired 9.78 percent of the votes – a promising share to exceed the election threshold at general elections – the party is running the risk of remaining out of the parliament.

While the HDP's all-embracing discourse appeals to the younger generation in Turkey for different reasons, some segments of the society have their reservations about the party's real identity, especially because of its alleged links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has been carrying out guerrilla warfare against Turkey for over 30 years.

Middle East Eye approached the Turkish electorate to find out why do they support the HDP or why are they sceptical about the party's real agenda.

Menekse Yilmaz, female, 32, translator/interpreter, born in Izmir and lives in Istanbul

"I consider myself [a member] of HDP's 'strategic electorate'. I have never voted for a mainstream political party in the past and always opted for independent candidates. But this is the first time ever I [have supported] a party that is in line with my social democratic views.

"Their discourse is concrete and coherent, they are against partisanship and racism. They distance themselves from terrorism and they promise a political agenda that could be grasped by all. They are saving us from the static structure of the Republican People's Party (CHP) and they care about our societal problems at large.

"They offer equal representation for women and fight for women's rights. They are cleverly destroying the allegations on being the "political wing of the separatist terrorist organisation" [PKK], and they offer a programme beyond mere identity politics.

"I believe that the consolidation of HDP with the support of democratic and leftist electorate will offer a democratic, peaceful and parliamentary resolution to the Kurdish issue. We all bear the responsibility of that.

"We no longer have to be Kurdish to support HDP and that is because the party is now a sincere nationwide force. And as a final note, I do not underestimate Selahattin Demirtas' personal charisma on the women electorate."

Cenk Sahin, male, 36, television journalist, born and lives in Istanbul

"I think the biggest problem of Turkey is the Kurdish issue. I am saying this as a Turkish citizen who wants to continue living in this country. Without finding an everlasting resolution to the Kurdish issue, we could neither see a full democratisation nor have a political and economic normalisation in Turkey.

"Kurds have been one of the founding entities of the Republic of Turkey since Lausanne [the peace treaty between Turkey and WWI allied powers that formally dissolved the Ottoman Empire and founded its successor] and they were the victims of being so in the way that they were never granted ... what they deserved. They were always considered our brothers and sisters, but it was only a misperception. We could have never been friends, because our relationship was not based on consensus.

"Instead, we had a 'sick relationship'. People yelled at the Kurds 'either love or leave'. And from the Kurdish side, no one has replied 'Who are you to expel us from our own homeland?' Banal nationalism is persistent. You could still see the words 'Turkey belongs to Turks' on the first page of Turkey's biggest newspaper.

"If a woman who suffered unspeakable torture, rape and direct harm on her physical integrity at the Diyarbakir prison when she was 16, is now pursuing a political career instead of holding on to guns, it is my duty to offer her the opportunity to be represented in the parliament.

"I am 36 years old and if someone at my age lived under a constant dusk-to-dawn curfew for 23 years in southeastern Turkey, I owe that person. I owe the children whose fathers were kidnapped by the intelligence circles and secret police by direct orders from the top of the state. I owe these people and that is why I will vote for HDP."

Erdal Birinci, 33, male, advertiser, born in Trabzon and lives in Istanbul

"I will not vote for HDP and the main reason for that is the party's links to the PKK. We all remember the photos taken at the PKK camps in northern Iraq. Their contradictory statements before and after the Imrali talks [high level talks between PKK's jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan, HDP representatives and government sponsored intelligence officials] are also another reason why I do not trust them.

"They are playing into a subtle Kurdish nationalism and although they are stating otherwise, they might form a coalition government with the AKP if they exceed the 10-percent electoral threshold.

We have seen similar examples in the Turkish political culture when it comes to denying what they previously said. With their independent MPs in the past, they have supported the AKP whenever the government party needed their help and in return they were promised with things that were never publicly disclosed. We do not know what AKP promised HDP."

Murat Sezgi, 30, male, event manager, born in Bursa and lives in Istanbul

"I find HDP's communication strategy with the electorate sincere. Instead of a pompous politician language, they deliver their messages in a friendly, simple and candid manner. This is something that we miss in Turkey.

"Because of the party politics in Turkey, they sometimes adopt a populist language but in comparison to other political parties, I find it very little. That is to say, if even you develop a sceptical view about their promises and do not believe in everything they say, you do not really question their sincerity.

"At the same time, they touch upon the issues that are very difficult to tackle or problematise in Turkey, such as LGBTI rights or the status of the Directorate of Religious Affairs. I find this very courageous. Especially their efforts to defend women's and LGBTI rights in Turkey, their 'leftist' slogans and the co-chairperson party management are the elements that are most appealing to me.

"As a person who always had internal conflicts when voting at an election in Turkey, I have the full confidence and comfort to vote for HDP. I am sick of corruption and I am supporting a party with the least chance of corruption. It is a grassroots movement and prioritise democracy and I feel it. It gives me breathing space."

Kadir Kacan, 28, male, civil society representative, born in Mardin and lives in Istanbul

"The Republic of Turkey had never solved any of its internal issues in a peaceful and democratic manner. It always disregarded the peoples that constituted the country and showed no signs of tolerance to those who are different.

"Kurds, as an entity opposing this oppression and having the necessary physical conditions to become a nation, have fought for their rights since the first years of the republic. They fought against Turkey and they suffered both civilian and military losses. The Turkish state too endured losses.

"After a year-long armed struggle, I find HDP's strategic decision to shape up the direction of the Kurdish political movement and their announcement to lay down their arms a very valuable step for reconciliation. Additionally, HDP is a party in which Kurds are the main driving force and I happen to be a Kurd. But the fact that they are inclusive for all the peoples and represent universal human rights norms are other factors why I will vote for HDP.

"Beside all of these realities, the AKP and other status quo parties unfortunately do not produce ideal policies, and for this reason Turkey remains a country where politics are made for only a handful of people. For instance, AKP only represents the interests of conservative Sunni Turkish males. But HDP is taking concrete steps to become a party for all the segments of the society."

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