Türkiye’s 2023 General Elections and the Kurdish Issue

The Most Important Elections in Turkey’s Recent Past Due to take place on May 14, Turkish citizens will elect a new president along with a new parliament. His six coalitions of ideologically diverse opposition parties, ranging from secularists to Islamist conservatives to Turkish nationalists, have joined forces to dethrone Recep Tayyip Erdogan under the leadership of Kemal Kilicdaroglu. rice field. Erdogan has been in power for 20 years as prime minister since 2014 and then as president.

President Erdogan won a majority in the last elections in June 2018 and gained new powers under Turkey’s new constitution. While critics argued that the strengthened presidential role leaves too much power in one hand and lacks sufficient checks and balances, Erdogan argues that strengthened powers are essential for national security, among other things. claimed to be.1

The report examines how Turkish security forces have dealt with Kurdish separatists at home and abroad during his second term as President Erdogan and ahead of the 2023 elections. Erdogan’s hawkish policies towards the Kurds have succeeded in driving the conflict out of the country, but have further alienated minority Kurdish groups within the country, making them the target of political repression. If Kurdish voters and other opposition groups can successfully mobilize anti-Erdogan voting blocs, they may mount the toughest electoral challenge against Turkey’s longtime president.

Crackdown on Kurdish political movements

President Erdogan’s approach to the Kurdish issue has changed over the past two decades. He worked with the Kurds early in his rule, introducing interim reforms on the cultural and linguistic rights of Kurds and forging good ties with the then newly established pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP). . He was also involved in peace talks with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a Kurdish armed group that has been in rebellion against Turkish authorities since 1984. However, this was more widespread against Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) among Kurdish voters, as his HDP won 13% of his vote in the 2015 elections and the AKP lost a majority in the parliament. did not garner strong political support.2 Shortly thereafter, conflict between the PKK and Turkey resumed, and the government began cracking down on HDPs. This was intensified after the post-coup emergency in mid-2016.

The Turkish government has imprisoned a number of HDP politicians and former parliamentarians in recent years, including HDP co-leader Selahattin Demirtas, on terrorism charges and PKK ties. Within his 18 months, Ankara ousted a majority of its mayors and replaced them with government-appointed bureaucrats, after the HDP took control of 65 municipalities in his 2019 local elections in the southeastern Kurdish region of Turkey. rice field.3 The HDP is now facing the threat of closure by the country’s Constitutional Court for alleged ties to terrorist activity, a move the HDP categorically denies.Four On April 25, less than three weeks before the May 14 elections, Turkey arrested 110 HDP officials, pro-Kurdish lawyers, journalists and artists. The move has been described by critics as a “pre-election intimidation tactic.”Five

ACLED documents 86 attacks against HDP affiliates by armed nationalists and mobs since 2018, amid ongoing crackdowns and hostile rhetoric against Kurdish politicians and activists by the AKP and far-right parties It has been. This far exceeds the number of incidents of political violence. Around the same time, other political parties in Turkey were targeted, accounting for half of such violence (See chart below). This includes the June 2021 murder of a female HDP member at the party’s provincial headquarters in Izmir, and the December 2021 stabbing of another of her HDP members in Istanbul. will be During the run-up to the elections, the Green Left party, which his HDP is running for parliamentary elections, has been the target of several attacks, including a knife attack on a member of parliament in Edrine on May 2. increase.

Hawkish regional policies in northern Iraq and Syria

The crackdown on Kurdish political opposition coincides with an intensification of Turkish military offensives against armed Kurdish groups, increasingly beyond Turkish borders in northern Iraq and Syria. Hostilities with the PKK peaked inside Turkey between 2015 and 2016 following the collapse of the peace process, but Turkish forces have since successfully pushed the conflict out of Turkey’s borders. doing. Turkish operations in northern Iraq have gained momentum in recent years, with the military expanding its reach further south using advanced weaponry such as drones. Aiming to weaken Kurdish forces along the Turkish-Syrian border, Turkish forces have launched three large-scale operations in northern Syria since 2016, controlling swaths of territory along the border. increase. Turkey views the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (QSD) as an extension of the PKK.

After the February earthquake, the PKK announced a temporary unilateral ceasefire to facilitate relief efforts, extending it until after the elections. Since the February earthquake, only 10 incidents involving PKK forces have been reported within Turkey between February and his April, a 37% decrease compared to the same period in 2022. I’m here. Gear up for elections to avoid escalation in Turkey that could favor the ruling government by stirring up nationalist sentiment among Turkish voters.6

Despite this, Turkish forces continue to target PKK forces in northern Iraq. Violence in the first quarter of 2023 was significantly higher compared to the same period last year, but the trend reversed in April as Turkey has yet to start its spring annual operations (See chart below). This could be related to calculations showing that Turkey’s military strength near election day is politically advantageous to the ruling party. On April 7, a drone strike, presumably carried out by Turkish forces, targeted a Syrian QSD commander’s convoy in Iraq’s Sulaymaniyah province, but no one was harmed. Turkey has officially denied responsibility for the attack, but the QSD has accused President Erdogan of trying to use the attack to boost support ahead of elections.7

In Syria, a diplomatic rapprochement between Turkey and Syria led to a lull in Turkish operations against Kurdish forces inside Syria from January to April 2023. The number of politically violent incidents involving Turkish forces in Syria has dropped by more than 60% in the first four months. His 2023 (See chart below). In late 2022, there were fears of another ground operation into Syria after Ankara attributed responsibility for his November bombing in Istanbul to his QSD.8 However, Russia continues to push for normalization of relations between the two neighboring countries. Assad has so far refused to meet Erdogan and hand over political gifts before his election, but diplomacy continues to move forward. For Erdogan, a deal with Damascus could lead to concerted action against Kurdish forces, while at the same time allowing his government to take steps regarding the return of Syrian refugees to meet populist wishes. The refugee issue has turned into a political responsibility for the government as public resentment against Syrian refugees grows amid deepening economic hardships. ACLED has documented nearly 20 of his attacks targeting Syrian refugees since 2019.

watershed election

Observers say the next election could be more about Erdogan’s “hard one-man rule” than anything else.9 Erdogan has wiped out many state institutions, including courts, law enforcement and civil servants, and has piled them up with supporters.Ten And the country has witnessed a “recession of democracy.”11 Opposition vows to restore parliamentary system and strengthen rule of law.12 Currently, Kirikda Rogul, who is just ahead of incumbent President Erdogan in the polls, has secured the HDP’s support.13 The HDP’s mostly Kurdish supporters helped the opposition win the 2019 mayoral elections in Istanbul and Ankara.14 Erdogan’s sweeping crackdown on Kurdish political movements could therefore change his political fortunes.

If Kilicdaloglu wins the presidential election, it could give Turkey’s Kurdish-dominated parties a breather. Kilicda Rogur has vowed to release Demirtas and his other HDP politicians from prison, claiming that the Kurdish issue may have a political solution..15 However, he will have to reconcile the conflicting interests of the ideologically diverse forces in the Alliance. HDP.16

Moreover, given the success of Turkish forces in driving the PKK out of Turkey and further away from Turkish borders, it is likely that Kilicda Rogur will have to maintain a firm commitment to maintaining national security. He has stressed that he will not negotiate with PKK leaders, whom he considers to be “illegal” actors.17 Depending largely on the PKK’s stance, positive domestic steps on the Kurdish issue could help ease the conflict abroad. With an election promise to send back Syrian refugees within two years of the election, Kilicdaroglu will follow in Erdogan’s footsteps and continue his reconciliation with Turkey and Assad.

However, it is still too early to write off President Erdogan. He may still be pulling the many power levers available to him to ensure he stays in power. By ousting Istanbul mayor Ekrem Imamoglu from politics, he already has the upper hand in his grip on the judiciary.18 Major security-related developments in the run-up to a possible first or second election could be further used as a tool to strengthen support for President Erdogan. Moreover, most polls show that his AKP-led coalition is several points ahead of the opposition coalition in parliamentary elections, allowing Erdogan to campaign for stability in the presidential runoff. will be19 Many predict that even if the incumbent president loses the election, he will not cede power without a fight, and may call for an annulment of the result. This could lead to widespread demonstrations and unrest in an increasingly polarized Turkish society, where politics has become a highly personal issue. for many people.20

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