Kurdish voters may view Kilicdaroglu positively, but their support is not unconditional
REMZI BUDANCIR- The countdown for the May 14 elections has begun and there are less than two months left until the election. While the nomination candidacy process continues within political parties, the matter of the Kurdish electorate, a demographic critical in the election, is a topic of debate.
After Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu was declared as the Nation Alliance’s presidential candidate, he met with the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Co-Chairs in parliament. On Wednesday, the Labor and Freedom Alliance announced that it would not nominate a candidate for president. HDP, which had previously announced that it would nominate a candidate for president, is a component of this alliance. Coordinator of the Socio-Political Field Research Center Yuksel Genc evaluated the impact of the Labor and Freedom Alliance's decision to not nominate a candidate on Kurdish voters, how the HDP base views the Kilicdaroglu candidacy, and voter tendencies for Arti Gercek.
KURDISH VOTERS DO NOT HAVE A NEGATIVE VIEW OF KILICDAROGLU'S CANDIDACY
Though the Labor and Freedom Alliance stated that they would not nominate a candidate, they did not explicitly say, "We will support Kilicdaroglu." Regarding this lack of mention of Kilicdaroglu’s name, Yuksel Genc said, "It is possible to say that this statement is open support for Kilicdaroglu and means not allowing polemics of radical extremists. In addition, the Labor Freedom Alliance did not directly say the name of any candidate, providing a meaningful basis for the opposition’s joint candidate to produce persuasive and interactive policies for different voter groups.”
It had been said that the HDP base and Kurdish voters in general did not view Kilicdaroglu’s candidacy negatively. Noting that a substantial portion of HDP voters responded to surveys saying that they could vote for him if Kilicdaroglu was the joint candidate, Genc said, “In our recent research, this number corresponded to 70 percent of the HDP base. Although this corresponds to 70 percent, three different approaches stood out in Kurdish voters’ approach to the common candidate of the Nation Alliance.”
THREE APPROACHES OF THE KURDISH ELECTORATE
Pointing out that three tendencies stand out among the Kurdish voters, Genc said that one group in opposition to Erdogan says, "I will vote for whoever becomes the candidate.” Reminding us that another group had stated that the Nation Alliance should have something to say on the Kurdish issue, Genc made the following analysis regarding the tendencies of the Kurdish voters:
“This Kurdish electoral group says, 'I will vote for the Nation Alliance only if this candidate acknowledges the Kurdish issue, my demands, and the party that I typically vote for; if the candidate can ensure that my participation is equal to theirs, if I will be included in the founding process of the new Turkey, if the candidate gives a believable and dependable assurances in the solution of the Kurdish issue.’ Two criteria stand out here. One is the strengthening and equalization of the Nation Alliance’s relationship with the politicians the Kurdish electorate votes for, and the second is the recognition of their demands by this candidate and its alliance and the guarantee that the demands will be met. In this group, we mainly came across this discourse when the topic was the Kurdish issue and democratization. There was also a group saying, ‘Fine, we’ll vote, but let the candidate show us that he is different from the AKP government. What will be the difference in the Kurdish issue and democratization, what will be his approach to the solution? We have heard nothing tangible on this issue. We will vote when we hear about this.’”
THE PROTESTING VOTER
Noting that the third group among Kurdish voters is the protesting voter, Genc drew attention to the influence of the Good Party's stance:
“This segment, which we can call protesters, also exists among HDP voters. This group is made up of people who are seriously disturbed by the statements and discourses coming from the Good Party wing within the Nation Alliance. Although this voter is vehemently opposed to the AKP government, they do not find Good Party or a diverse Nation Alliance to be any different. Such voters say, ‘They are no different from each other. If my party nominates a candidate, I will vote for that candidate. If my party does not nominate a candidate, I will not fill in the section regarding the presidential candidacy.’ This group of protesters corresponds to 15-16 percent.”
WHAT DOES THE FACT THAT THE HDP HAS NOT MENTIONED A NAME SIGNIFY?
Expressing that the HDP's refusal to nominate a candidate is in line with the demands of some HDP voters, Genc said that nearly 70 percent of HDP voters would vote for a joint presidential candidate signaled by the HDP. Pointing out that HDP voters understood that the party was in favor of the Nation Alliance, Genc said that not mentioning names explicitly might have been done by the HDP considering all the groups in its base:
"Because the HDP probably believes that its voter base should be convinced of the process," Genc continues, "the HDP has a political constituency. The HDP has opened the door for this electorate to be persuaded to vote willingly for Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the joint candidate of the Nation Alliance, by way of convincing policy suggestions by Kilicdaroglu and the Nation Alliance. We don't know yet whether the Nation Alliance and Kilicdaroglu will evaluate the matter this way."
THERE WAS AN INCLINATION TO "LET HDP ENTER WITH ITS OWN CANDIDATE IN THE FIRST ROUND" OF THE ELECTION
The HDP's decision to nominate a candidate was considered by many to be a good move. However, there were also critics of this decision who said that the announcement of not nominating a candidate so early in the campaign period was basically handing over the keys of the election to the main opposition parties. Yuksel Genc summarized the attitude of these critics as follows:
“From the beginning, the HDP had said that we can reach an agreement on a joint candidate with the Nation Alliance, if we can agree on principles, we will support them. The HDP has been trying to orient their base towards this idea for a long time and has come to this conclusion on their own as well. Actually, this idea was widely supported among HDP voters 2-3 months ago. There is a significant segment that says, ‘The HDP should nominate its own candidate. It must insist on their own strong candidate until the second round of the election. Either the Nation Alliance or the People's Alliance would have had to give concrete assurances regarding their attitude that makes categorical distinctions between the Kurdish question and itself, and others [the Kurds]. Because they know they need Kurdish voted to win the election. As such, it would have been more logical to withdraw at a later time.’ The HDP's long-standing policy and its subtle transitions to support the joint candidate seems to have weakened such an insistence. Of course, as you said, there is still a section that thinks this.”
KURDISH VOTERS ARE UNEASY
Despite the first meetings with the HDP having taken place, different statements are coming from the Good Party wing. Pointing out that Good Party Istanbul Deputy Yavuz Agiralioglu’s statements repel HDP voters, Genc said that if the Good Party’s attitude is adopted by the opposition bloc (i.e., The Table of Six) a significant group of people who are considering voting for Kilicdaroglu would be uneasy. Genc, who noted that this approach would cause decreases among the 70 percent who say they will vote for Kilicdaroglu, said, "In summary, the vast majority of HDP voters positively consider voting for Kilicdaroglu against Erdogan. In terms of psychological superiority, Kilicdaroglu is faced with the electorate group in which he is the strongest in this sense, in terms of HDP voters. But these voters are still uneasy, are still waiting to be persuaded, and are watching for signs that they are being taken into account. Whoever manages this period well, will garner the support of this electorate.”
“THE HDP NEEDS TO VOTE AS A BLOC”
Expressing that how the time leading up to the election develops depends on the Nation Alliance and Kilicdaroglu, Genc said:
“The willingness of HDP voters to vote for Kilicdaroglu or for the Nation Alliance candidate is not unconditional. About 75 percent may be more disorganized in voting if something goes wrong. However, for Kilicdaroglu to win the election, the HDP need to vote as a bloc. Policies and considerations to be made may facilitate the formation of this bloc. What matters is what they will do. A split HDP base may partially benefit the Nation Alliance’s joint candidate. But if they vote as a bloc, any risk is eliminated. If the process is managed right, if the atmosphere we have seen for the past week is maintained, with the exclusion of Agiralioglu’s statements, if the integrity of the ballot box security is ensured starting from now, the Nation Alliance candidate has a very high probability of winning.”
DEMANDS OF THE KURDISH ELECTORATE
Kilicdaroglu last met with HDP in parliament. He offered some explanations regarding the Kurdish language issue. To the question, “What messaging should be given to persuade Kurdish voters?” Genc responded that these statements alone would not be enough to convince the Kurdish voters. Genc, who stressed that the current discourse on the mother tongue is based only on parity with secondary and tertiary languages, then listed the demands of the Kurdish voters:
"A very important part of the Kurdish voters have demands for Kurdish to be one of the official languages in Turkey. There need to be promises that are way beyond a TV broadcasting in Kurdish at a certain time during the AKP rule or the offering of Kurdish as an elective course in schools. The framework established regarding the issue is not one that will satisfy the Kurds. I have to say this. The sayings that the solution to the Kurdish problem resides in the parliament was already said a year and a half ago. The Kurdish voters of course buy this idea, the idea that the solution of the Kurdish problem should be in parliament. Because they think that initiative-related problems caused by their being ignored by the state and certain elements that would disrupt the process can be eliminated by authority over the parliament.
“KURDS WANT TO KNOW HOW THE KURDISH QUESTION WILL BE RESOLVED”
"Based on previous processes, we know that they care about this, but it is quite circular. The issue is this: How will the Kurdish question be resolved in that parliament? What kinds of mechanisms will be established? Will all the stakeholders be considered? How will ties be developed with actors involved in the Kurdish issue? Above all, what does parliament even make of the Kurdish question and so how will it be resolved?
It will not be enough to simply include in laws and in the Constitution the understanding of equality regardless of identity. In terms of the current authoritarian climate, perhaps an understanding of equality that is blind to identities may be very attractive. However, after a while, it will be seen that this is not actually the solution to the problem, and is, at most, a factor that would positively impact the development of an atmosphere suitable to finding a solution. There is a strong belief among Kurds that the Kurdish question can be resolved by strengthening local democracies, weakening the central authority, and establishing a new perception of democracy through grassroots work. Even if such people view the parliament as the correct address for the resolution of this issue, there is the matter of who will be in that parliament. A process like the process created by the AKP government in 2013-15 weakens the possibility that the new government will be able to establish a new, democratic Turkey.”