Figen Yuksekdag: Questions of “joint candidacy” should now only be directed to the Table of Six
DENIZCAN ALBAY- Political lobbies were moved into action by the Peoples’ Democratic Party’s (HDP) decision to announce its own presidential candidate when its calls to the Table of Six for a “joint candidate” went unanswered. In her assessment of the process that brought the party to this stage, former HDP Co-Chair Figen Yuksekdag, who remains incarcerated in Kandira Prison, said, "The language that has been used for some time by the opposition around the issue of a joint candidate, but especially the problematic attitude of zero contact and circumvention of its baseline political demands, paved the way for HDP’s decision to announce a candidate.”
“THE HDP HAS GONE ABOVE AND BEYOND IN FULFILLING ITS DUTY”
Yuksekdag, who has been in prison for six years, said in an interview with Arti Gercek, "After all, our party has made the right decision. We might even say that [the party] was even a little late." Yuksekdag emphasized that "the HDP has gone above and beyond to fulfill its duty. At this point, it is only the responsibilities and the courage of the members of the Table of Six that is in question.”
Saying that "an approach that does not see the HDP as a legitimate interlocutor yet differentiates and turns its constituents into an object of potential votes is predominant," Yuksekdag continued, "If this power had followed those who said, ‘Leave your party, your will, and come,’ they would not have suffered from the AKP-MHP fascism. The reality is the existence of a public that refuses to recognize those that do not accept its will and dignity.
“THE PARTY CLOSURE CASE POSES A SERIOUS THREAT”
Highlighting that the closure case against the HDP and the decision to freeze the treasury aid is not only their problem, Yuksekdag said, "There are serious problems and dangers in terms of general politics and opposition in Turkey. Those who do not show an adequate response to the attacks of party closure and blocked treasury aid today, and those who do not accept the HDP's legitimacy, will face the consequences before tomorrow," said Yuksekdag.
“APATHY PAVED THE WAY FOR THE IMAMOGLU DECISION”
Highlighting the HDP's experiences regarding the proposed prison sentence and the ban on political participation imposed on Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, Yuksekdag made the following comment: "The mistakes in the process of confiscating Kurdish municipalities and HDP local governments, and the apathy towards the judiciary that was used as a weapon against us the most, paved the way for the point reached today.”
On the other hand, Yuksekdag’s call for solidarity with other opposition parties drew attention: "But if it is desired and a strong will is displayed, this attack by the government to weaken the opposition can be reversed and turned on its head into a step that strengthens it. The entire opposition bloc needs to stand as one to defend the people’s right to vote and to be elected without differentiation on the basis of party or coalition.”
Yuksekdag's answers to our questions on many topics, from candidacy debates to the Table of Six, and from violations of rights in prisons to the party closure case, are as follows:
“THERE IS AN APPROACH THAT DOES NOT SEE THE HDP AS A LEGITIMATE INTERLOCUTOR YET DIFFERENTIATES AND TURNS ITS CONSTITUENTS INTO AN OBJECT OF POTENTIAL VOTES”
An important election is approaching. On the agenda of the election, the most intense source of debate is who the candidates will be. The HDP announced that it will nominate its own candidate. What is your evaluation of this decision? Do you think the right strategy is a joint candidate with the Table of Six or is it the HDP's nomination of its own candidate?
With its position paper released months ago (September 2022), the HDP had stated that the best approach would be for the opposition bloc to put forward a joint candidate. It is known to everyone that the HDP strived seriously towards this goal. Despite these constructive efforts, it is clear that no constructive response has been received. On the contrary, the approach that did not see the HDP as a legitimate interlocutor yet separated it from its constituents and turned them into an object of votes, prevailed. The Table of Six, which expects the HDP to support its presidential candidate in the face of the party closure attack, was unable to develop an attitude of adopting even the most basic democratic criteria.
The perception and claim that HDP was “obliged” to support their candidate was dominant at the Table of Six and in the eyes of the public close to it. On the one hand, they stoked the flames of the “[HDP] might come to an agreement with the AKP at any moment" allegation, which has infuriated the HDP base for a long time. The public sees best the reality of those who could not bear even a quarter of the price paid by the HDP in their struggle against the AKP's palace power.
“OUR PARTY HAS MADE THE RIGHT DECISION”
There’s no need to drag this on, but the language that has been used for some time by the opposition around the issue of a joint candidate, and especially the problematic attitude of zero contact and circumvention of its baseline political demands, paved the way for HDP’s decision to announce a candidate.
“THE REALITY IS OF A PEOPLE WHO REFUSE TO ACCEPT THOSE WHO DO NOT RECOGNIZE THEIR DIGNITY”
In the end, our party has made the right decision. In fact, it is a decision that was late in coming. Even while in prison, we know of and hear how indignant our electorate is regarding the treatment of the HDP. Don't those who present themselves as an alternative to the current administration know this? Despite our fight to stay standing, despite our life-and-death struggles, they still refuse to recognize and understand the HDP mass as a political force of 10 million. If this power had gone after those who said, "Leave your party, let go of your will, and come,” it would not have faced the wrath of the AKP-MHP fascism. The reality is the existence of a public that refuses to recognize those that do not accept its will and dignity.”
“THE HDP HAS GONE ABOVE AND BEYOND IN FULFILLING ITS DUTY”
The HDP's path is clear, its position is clear. Regardless of the joint candidacy debate, we are committed to the 3rd Way program and strategy. Only because of the responsibility felt towards the peoples of Turkey and the anti-fascist sensitivity, was joint candidate topic given priority. But the HDP has more than fulfilled its duty. The rest concerns the responsibility and courage of the Table of Six components.
“QUESTIONS SHOULD NOW BE DIRECTED ONLY TO THE TABLE OF SIX”
The HDP is not obligated to anyone. Neither is it an object that every Tom, Dick, and Harry can condescend to, try to teach a lesson, put in its place, harass, or divide and redesign as they see fit. It is the embodiment of a people who have enough insight to see and recognize all kinds of cooptation projects, whether open or insidious, in the party. The will to put forward its own candidate is the product of this consciousness and foresight. And I must emphasize that from now on, any and all questions of “why couldn't a joint candidate be selected or how can this be achieved?" should be answered by the Table of Six. We will see together whether they can solve the problem of not defending the legitimacy of the HDP and relegating it to backdoor diplomacy.
“THE MAJORITY OPINION IS IN FAVOR OF A FEMALE CANDIDATE”
What is the ideal profile for the candidate? If the HDP nominates a woman, what does it mean in the current political conjecture?
Of course, the candidate must have a coherent and inclusive democratic quality. Only in this way can our country be pulled out of the deep darkness of fascism and severe impoverishment that it has been dragged into. Ability to unify, to be courageous, and to mobilize; The candidate should embody features such as being able to lead the democratic restructuring of the regime from top to bottom, especially in the areas of the Kurdish issue, women's rights, labor, and youth.
The HDP's predominant view is to nominate a female candidate. This will be the most correct decision. It is extremely meaningful in terms of carrying the accumulated capital of women, which has been formed and developed for years, to a society wide political arena and priority. The HDP is the party that has the ability to solve the problem of women's representation, which is exposed to the heaviest political attacks in daily life and who constitute the largest percentage of voters. This is not a claim or a goal, but a concrete practice.
Moreover, in conditions where femicide has reached its peak and the government is planning a reactionary fascist, sexist coup against the woman's body and life under the guise of the headscarf, it is necessary to raise the bar of the struggle. A democratic socialist and female libertarian female presidential candidate is important in growing this struggle. The women's mind, will, unifying, and collective power can play a historical role in the solution of Turkey's comprehensive political and economic problems.
The revolt that broke out in Iran also showed that even in the face of the most fanatical and brutal dictatorships, the voice and movement of "Jin, jiyan, azadi - Women, life, freedom" changes a lot. The most indestructible, seemingly unshakable strongholds of oppression can be conquered by women's righteousness, legitimacy, and leadership. The belief that it is possible to succeed and win and the determination to not give up can be transformed into social power. When you move away from all alliances, balances, tactical calculations, and the genius of saving the day and look instead at the larger sociopolitical picture, you will see that salvation lies in the woman.
“THE COUNTRY NEEDS THE LABOR AND FREEDOM ALLIANCE”
What do you make of the approach of the Table of Six to the HDP and the Labor and Freedom Alliance?
The important thing is that the HDP and the Labor and Freedom Alliance proceed decisively in their own way. Beyond elections and candidacy, they represent the third united front and a dynamic social opposition. As far as we can see, the Kartal Rally reflected this dynamic and potential. It is not possible to ignore what we see and what we know to be true beyond what we see. Even if it were, it is not the problem of the HDP or the Labor and Freedom Alliance.
What is important is that peoples, that women, that those who have been denied justice, bread, and freedom to trust in their own power. After all, there is a base that it addresses and unites, and it includes not only central politics, but also labor, freedom, faith, women's liberation, ecology, and left-socialist dynamics. In Turkey, the participation of this field in politics is important. Change can only be achieved here. Moreover, the level of institutionalization of fascism and reactionary movements in Turkey requires a much more consistent democratic opposition.
“WE HAVE MOSTLY BEEN THE TARGET OF THE RULING BLOC, AND SOMETIMES OF THE OPPOSITION”
To put it simply, as in the last typical example, if you are saying “no” to using the female body and its choices as a tool to degrade the Constitution, you should not then sit at the same table and legitimize these. You must take a firm, uncompromising, and unyielding stance on many other fundamental democratic rights. When the limits and status quo of the opposition to the established order are as such, the country desperately needs a genuine, revolutionary, and democratic force for change like the HDP and the Labor and Freedom Alliance.
It is not so important anymore whether or not someone has approached the other or formed a relationship. Based on the HDP precedent, I can say: When, if ever, was an ethical, democratic, relationship established with us? We have been targeted mostly by the government and sometimes by the opposition. Since 2014-15 we have grappled with purge attacks that many cannot even imagine; we are still struggling. But they just can't tie the wheel of history. One way or another, the power of democratic change, measured in the millions, will determine the political consequences.
“THE PEOPLE WHO DID NOT REACT TO THE PARTY CLOSURE CASE WILL FACE ITS CONSEQUENCES”
There is a closure case against the HDP. The bank account to which the treasury aid will be deposited has also been temporarily blocked. What would be the impact of the pressures on the HDP and a possible closure on the elections and general politics?
I said a few basic things about the characteristics of the HDP audience. Perhaps I should also add that this audience is a subject in its own right. Able to organize and mobilize themselves and each other, it has a strong sense of subjectivity and belonging that can affect other segments of society. I'm talking about a collectivism that is united by values and the heavy prices it has paid and mobilized even more by certain critical periods, rather than by a party roof. The impositions of deadlock on the Kurdish question, the uninterrupted coup and usurpation attacks against its political will further consolidate this structure. In other words, the strategy of making us tired and helpless through pressure will not work from now on through our political body. That body takes another form with its strong mind and spirituality, but it does not weaken or disappear.
“THE CLOSURE CASE IS NOT EXCLUSIVELY OUR PROBLEM”
The party closure case and the decision to freeze the treasury aid pose serious problems and dangers in terms of general politics and opposition in Turkey, rather than being exclusively our situation. Today, we see that this downright fascist approach towards the HDP is either not emphasized or is glossed over with rhetoric. I don't know if everyone looking at it from their perspective normalizes the idea that the HDP will be closed and expects a disintegration. The same perspective existed when trustees were being appointed and then reappointed to the municipalities 6-7 years ago and when hundreds of elected politicians were being thrown into prisons.
“WE CANNOT GO TO AN ELECTION IN AN ENVIRONMENT WITH PARTIES BEING CLOSED'
In the course of time, countless anti-democratic practices have been seen as the HDP's problem and normalized. Those who do not react to the attacks of closure and freezing of treasury aid today, and those who do not defend the legitimacy of HDP, will face the consequences of this before tomorrow. The operation to shut down and restrict the HDP is first and foremost a blows up the ground for fair and democratic elections. In sane countries, even in the most minimal democracies, elections cannot be held in an environment where the party is closed. You are telling a society to “choose the party you want,” then you are closing one of those parties. If the arrogance of "such a disgrace can only happen with us" prevails, the legitimacy and reliability of the elections cannot be discussed anyway.
In addition, the treasury aid consists of the taxes of ourselves and of our peoples. It is not by the grace of anyone. Our voters' rights have been seized. Since those in power are always hungry, it's not a problem for them to take even more. But the HDP and our peoples will overcome this deprivation fighting tooth and nail with their big hearts. In the June 7, 2015 elections, we worked with zero treasury aid and won more than 13 percent of the votes. Maybe this will be better for us.
“IMAMOGLU’S PUNISHMENT IS A SIGNAL”
The prison sentence given to Mayor Imamoglu brought the trustee policy to the agenda again. How do you think this punishment was reflected in politics?
The prison sentence given to Imamoglu is a sign of how the AKP-MHP government will act during the election process. Putschist attitudes such as appointing trustees or removing them from office and replacing them with someone from the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality Assembly are things that can be expected from this government. Erdogan's political obsession with Istanbul, his identification of the city with himself, and his motto "Whoever takes Istanbul, takes Turkey" fuels the behavior of holding elections by seizing the city government no matter what. In addition, it is obvious that Istanbul has an indisputable determinant quality in Turkey due to its vote proportion and its nature as the economic and political center. For this reason, Istanbul will be a decisive battleground on the way to the general election, the presidential election. The opposition certainly needs to increase its level of readiness.”
“APATHY TO OPERATIONS IN KURDISH MUNICIPALITIES PAVED THE WAY TO TODAY”
The mistakes in the process of confiscating Kurdish municipalities and HDP local governments, and the apathy towards the judiciary that was used as a weapon against us the most, paved the way for the point reached today. But if it is desired and a strong will is displayed, this attack by the government to weaken the opposition can be reversed and turned on its head into a step that strengthens it.
'THE OPPOSITION SHOULD DEFEND THE RIGHT TO ELECT AND TO BE ELECTED AS A UNITED FRONT”
The entire opposition bloc needs to be a united front to defend the people’s right to vote and to be elected without differentiation on the basis of party or alliance. Such a joint democratic movement during the election process can also build the most effective line of defense against political piracy and security problems of the ruling government. A wait-and-see attitude or political indecision and discouragement would be the most unfortunate scenario against the current situation. If the government wants to leap into the 2023 elections and Turkey's new century through Istanbul, it is inevitable that the opposition will also build their mass here. The will of the people can be defended by the legitimate democratic popular movement and by leading such a movement. It is possible for the entire opposition to focus on the real attitude and to nullify the operation launched through the Istanbul Municipality and Imamoglu.
“THE REALITY OF SICK PRISONERS IS A SERIOUS HUMANITARIAN ISSUE”
You have been under arrest since 2016. Violations of rights in prisons are also on the public agenda. What are your observations and experiences regarding rights violations?
The government has long ruled the country through courts and prisons. That is to say, with an open, direct policy of repression and oppression. People live or see the most strict and brutal forms of this in prisons. The isolation has taken very heavy and systematic forms in recent years. Inhumane prisons were built, which we can call an “isolation beyond isolation,” using various things for this purpose. As a result, incidences of illness and suicide have increased. The death of Garibe Gezer and the sick prisoners very close to us are examples that we see closely and deal with here. The prison system and the power policies that established the system are based on multiplying such painful and deadly examples.
“A TERRIFYING PROBLEM OF LAWLESSNESS AND CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY”
The reality of sick prisoners still remains a serious humanitarian problem. Most recently, after the death of a retired general in prison, they pretended to solve the problem by issuing a notice, but there is no proper implementation. On the contrary, with the legal and inhumane changes made in the law, prisoners whose normal parole period has come are not released as per the decisions of the Observation Board. People who have been sentenced by the DGMs (State Security Courts), which were closed for being anti-democratic, and who served those sentences for 30 years, are still not released. Prisons and prosecutor's offices do not recognize the court's decision of "you are sentenced to this many years” and instead they say, "you are going to be here for this many more years,” almost as if they are redoing the trial. A terrible lawlessness and a crime against humanity!
“THE RULING ADMINISTRATION TURNED EVERY PLACE INTO DIYARBAKIR PRISON”
While those convicted of crimes such as extortion, fraud, murder, and drugs enter and exit through with a sentence reduction of more than half, they even punish people for having hope of parole in political imprisonment cases within the scope of terrorism. Obviously, this will have dire consequences. In the past, during the coup and fascism periods, there were centers of persecution and torture, such as Diyarbakir, Mamak, and Eskisehir. Today, the ruling political power has turned every place into Diyarbakir Prison. What they do not realize from their arrogance at the moment is the fact that this cruelty enlarges the oppressed and expels the oppressors from history like a bad excretion.
CALL FOR SOLIDARITY FOR ELECTION SECURITY
What would you recommend to the public opposition during the election process?
The priority should be to establish a social network that will ensure election security and to strengthen the solidarity on this axis. Anxieties such as “will the palace administration recognize the election results; will provocation and chaos develop” should not be allowed to turn into insecurity and anxiety. On the other hand, with the rhetoric of "waiting for the ballot box,” no one should obscure the fact that the public opposition will be established in action and will be won. Otherwise, that ship too will sail.
The social opposition power, which cannot lay claim to the most classical and universal gains such as the ballot box and the right to vote, obviously cannot gain its own right to exist. It is vital that the street, the right of speech and action, are kept in the center of attention as much as the ballot boxes are. The way to a life in which democracy, freedoms, and human welfare conditions prevail for everyone in Turkey passes through the struggle for these together.