Jailed Erdogan opponent says united opposition and Kurds can stop Turkey descending into ‘dictatorship’

Jailed Erdogan opponent says united opposition and Kurds can stop Turkey descending into ‘dictatorship’
Turkey has ignored a 2020 European Court of Human Rights order to free Selahattin Demirtas, a former human rights lawyer. / VoA.
By bne IntelIiNews April 6, 2023

A unified opposition in Turkey that included Kurds could prevent the country descending into “dictatorship” by defeating President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the Turkish national elections set for May 14, one of Erdogan’s most prominent opponents has said from his prison cell.

Selahattin Demirtas, who led the left-wing pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic party (HDP), Turkey’s third-biggest political group, before he was imprisoned in 2016 on charges of supporting terrorism, responded to questions submitted by the Financial Times through his lawyer.

He urged Turkey’s opposition to seize its best chance yet to unseat Erdogan, who has been the country’s leader for two decades.

“Step by step, Turkey has moved towards an authoritarian regime. If Erdogan wins this election, Turkey will have transitioned to a new kind of dictatorship,” Demirtas was quoted as saying.

He added: “Erdogan has managed to stay in power by dividing society… The opposition’s unity as it goes to the polls is not only important to eliminate this polarisation but to win the election.”

Turkey’s Kurdish minority make up around 18% of a population of 85mn. The HDP could therefore become the kingmaker in the presidential and parliamentary elections. The party has decided not to put forward its own candidate in the presidential contest in order to avoid splintering the opposition vote. The six-party Nation Alliance, or Table of Six, opposition bloc, which does not include the HDP, has nominated Republican People’s Party (CHP) longstanding leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu as its challenger to Erdogan.

“No party that does not receive the support of Kurdish voters has ever come to power. Kurds will be decisive in this election as well,” Demirtas was further cited as saying.

Kilicdaroglu, who belongs to the minority Alevi faith, was born in a largely Kurdish province. He was, Demirtas was also reported by the FT as saying, “making a sincere effort on change and democracy”. Kurds “value a common presidential candidate” and were “hopeful” about Kilicdaroglu’s campaign, but they would wait to see how it evolved before making a choice, he added.

Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) traditionally attracted around a third of Kurdish voters, but conservative Kurdish support for the president has fallen off given the loss of earlier political and cultural gains achieved during his leadership.

Turkey has ignored a 2020 European Court of Human Rights order to free Demirtas, a former human rights lawyer. His conviction was tied to political speeches he made that often targeted Erdogan.

The HDP’s parliamentary candidates will stand under the banner of sister party Green Left in an effort at dodging a potential ban on the HDP that could be introduced by the constitutional court over allegations that the party supports the PKK, a Kurdish militant group that has waged an insurgency in Turkey for decades.

The HDP, which denies backing the PKK, took 10.7% of the vote in the 2018 parliamentary election.