The possible outcomes of the elections and their effects on Kurds

OTHMAN ALI
Published
Illustration by Necmettin Asma Illustration by Necmettin Asma

The HDP's unwise decision to miss the opportunity to be an actor of the reconciliation process, which was started by the AK Party, by supporting PKK violence has disappointed Kurds who see the process as a way to build permanent peace in the region

The outcome of the snap general election on Nov. 1 will have a profound impact on future of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), Turkey, the Syrian crisis, and Turkey's foreign policy in general. However, the election outcome will have the most visible and far-reaching impact on the future of Kurds. The polls in Turkey have so far given various scenarios for the way the election results will be. Based on that, we maintain that Kurdish interests will be best served if the AK Party wins a sufficient numbers of seats to form a majority government and the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) manages to again pass through the 10 percent national election threshold. The second helpful scenario for Kurds will be an election result that enables the AK Party to form a comfortable coalition government with HDP.

Regardless of the ongoing violence, which has suddenly risen due to the current complex situation, neither the AK Party, HDP nor the PKK are satisfied that violence will serve the interests of any party. Unlike previous governments, the AK Party's political discourse on the Kurdish question does not favor a security approach to the Kurdish question; it prefers to deal with the Kurdish reality with a sense of recognition. For these reasons, it has tried to find a political settlement to the issue. This could be seen from the record of AK party governments over the last decade. This record speaks loudly that the old taboos with regarding the existence of Kurds in Turkey were broken. The AK party government brought the Kurdish question in 2012 for the first time to Parliament to be addressed as a political issue and openly called for the revision of the Constitution to recognize Kurdish ethnic identity as a subsidiary identity within the larger Turkish identity.

Iraqi Kurdistan, which is for all intent and purposes a de facto Kurdish state, has so far managed to do this to a large extent with the help of the AK Party government. The pre-AK Party governments in the 1990s in cooperation with Baghdad had put an embargo on the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to strangle it. Turkish absence in the KRG opened the door to Iranian influence. In many ways, the events since the mid-2000s vindicated the AK Party's approach. Turkish trade has flourished, although Iraq is Turkey's second-largest export market, the most of these exports go to the KRG. One can hardly fail to notice the prevalence of Turkish products in the KRG. Take into consideration, though, that the revived Baghdad authorities are determined to replicate Saddam Hussein's anti-Kurdish policies and have already denied the KRG its share of the Iraqi budget. Should the AK Party lose power in Turkey, Iraqi Kurds will be in a serious problem with regional powers. Currently, Turkey is the KRG's most important external outlet. It should be noted that if the AK Party is out of power, Turkey would also lose this invaluable source of revenue from external trade.

Except for a few extremist elements within the PKK, Kurds are fully aware of this reality, and in the past they have paid back the AK Party by voting mostly in all pre-June 2015 national and municipal elections for the party. In the June 7 elections, however, the HDP managed to receive some of the Kurdish vote that used to be given to the AK Party. There is consensus among Kurds that the HDP had not used the mandate given them by the Kurds for Kurdish interests. The HDP should have used the opportunity to present the civil and democratic aspect of the Kurdish struggle to Turks and Western powers, as should have the PKK, instead of resorting to violence and ending the peace process.

WHERE IS DEMİRTAŞ'S DOVE?

The HDP's unwise decision to miss the opportunity to form a coalition government with the AK Party and to use it to gain more recognition for Kurds cost Kurds a lot in both Turkey and Iraq. This wrong policy of HDP was either the product of foreign influence or the result of an illusion on the part of its leaders that it will be the future leading opposition party in Turkey. Despite the HDP's pretention to present itself as a party of diverse groups, there are a number of obstacles that may stand in the way of its ability to broaden its constituency. First, it will be difficult to get around the fact that the party is the brainchild of imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan. His role in the party may be too unacceptable to the liberal Turkish voters whom the party aims to reach. Second is that the leftist, socialist tone has long been virtually irrelevant in Turkish domestic politics, because the Turkish public traditionally tends to vote for center-right parties.

Had the AK Party formed a coalition government with the Republican People's Party (CHP) or Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) in the past, or should they be forced to after the elections, Kurds in Turkey and throughout the Middle East, will be one of the most adversely affected parties. Any such eventuality will be like putting a nail to the coffin of the reconciliation process. Although the AK Party is still committed to the process, a coalition government will hamper it. As Kurdish voters cast their ballots, they cannot afford to ignore this reality.The potential partners, the CHP and MHP, to form a coalition government with the AK Party are not at pain to exhibit their refusal to sign any peace deal with the PKK. These parties do not have the kind of records to make them better candidates to be Kurds' alternatives to the AK Party.

The HDP's past and future success in passing the election threshold is not necessarily harmful for the future of Turkey or the AK Party. Any peace for the Kurdish conflict in Turkey needs a credible party within the Kurds to negotiate with the state. Provided that it manages to disassociate itself from PKK violence, develops a more realistic reading of Turkish and regional actors and deserts its radical and romantic leftism in favor of more focus on Kurdish civil rights, the HDP can be a suitable partner in the reconciliation process. Should the HDP be weakened or fail to pass the election threshold, extremism and the PKK's militaristic approach will have more appeal among Kurds. The experience of the British government in tackling the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and its political arm, Sinn Fein, while addressing the Irish conflict, is relevant and worthy of consideration. According to sources close to Iraqi Kurdish leaders who have been in contact with the HDP, the latter seems to be more willing to join a coalition government with the AK Party should they win seats in the coming election.

DARK SIDE OF THE MOON

In addition, if the AK Party fails to win sufficient seats to form a simple majority government, a reformed HDP will be a better partner for it to implement its future vision for Turkey. The AK Party's plans to make Turkey one of the most powerful economies in the world and to make it a promising and democratic Muslim country require peace, stability and democracy at home. This is hardly achievable in the absence of a genuine and lasting peaceful approach to the Kurdish issue, which has been draining most of the resources of the Turkish state before the AK Party came to power.

In addition, should the AK Party fail to form a government alone or not manage to include the HDP in its coalition government, it has to form a government with the CHP or MHP, and this will entail the end of the reconciliation process. This will not serve Turkey in the long run in general and the AK Party in particular. The end of the reconciliation process will prolong violence in Turkey and gives Turkey's external enemies leverage to use against it. This will also and more probably create circumstances conducive for undoing the role of the military in political affairs and revive once again the agents of the deep state at the expense of democracy. We may once again see what Turkey had gone through during the 1970s and 1990s when the country's economy collapsed and instability prevailed with militant groups and security forces killing thousands of people, the majority of whom were Kurds. It is also possible that Turkey's economy will be badly affected in a manner similar to what happened in the 1990s with "triple-digit inflation and a full-blown Kurdish insurgency that killed tens of thousands." This will create an insurmountable crisis for Turkey. The country cannot withstand at the same time the simultaneous challenges of a PKK and Democratic Union Party (PYD) Kurdish insurgencies, Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) attacks and political conspiracies from Iran, Syria, Israel and some European circles.

For these reasons, an AK Party win with enough seats to form a single-party government will serve the interests of Turkey in general and those of Kurds throughout the Middle East.

* Professor at Salahaddin University, Iraqi Kurdistan

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