Turkish government’s election tactic: delaying up and coming parties

There appears to be no end in sight for rumours of snap elections in Turkey, ahead of the regularly scheduled polls in 2023.

With the most recent changes to the country’s electoral system and the addition of options for inter-party alliances, Turkey’s smaller parties are slated to play a key role in determining the future of Turkish politics.

But such alternative groups, like the Green Party and the pro-Kurdish Human and Freedom Party (PİA), are finding it difficult to enter the arena as they hit bureaucratic hurdles and foot-dragging.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which lost dozens of municipalities to the opposition by small margins in the 2019 local elections, is accused of trying to create dissent among its opponents, while looking for ways to delay new political formations that could potentially align with and strengthen the opposition.

A total of 26 new parties were established in 2020, according to official figures, bringing the total number of political parties in the country to 108. However, a number of parties have been unable to take off, in a development they maintain is no technical glitch.

The pro-Kurdish PİA, which applied for official licensing exactly three years ago, cannot be formally established. According to party’s deputy chairman, Murat Bozdemir, the Turkish state does not want Kurdish politics to become pluralistic and is happy with he calls the “terrorisation’’ of the Kurdish issue.

The current party in parliament that wins the majority of the Kurdish vote, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), is the top lawmaking body’s third largest group. The party has been the subject of a years-long crackdown by the government, which accuses it of terror links.

According to Bozdemir, the state wants to deal with as few actors as possible, which he explains as the reasoning behind the hurdles facing the PİA.

On the Political Parties Law, Bozdemir said that there had been decisions made in 2014 regarding Kurdish politics, which were not being shared with the public.

“But we see that an action plan was launched after 2016,” Bozdemir said, referring to the intensified crackdown on the HDP in the aftermath of failed coup attempt.

According to Bozdemir, the state is looking to cement the perception that Kurds will never give up their conflict, even if they were granted all of their rights, including the reinstatement of elected Kurdish mayors in the 2019 election, over dozens of whom have been ousted over terror charges.

There has been a stance against pluralism in Turkey for decades, Bozdemir said, adding that Turkey has “restricted the Kurdish issue to left-wing politics and made religious Kurds dependent upon state discourse.”

“This is one of the main reasons for the crackdown on the Human and Freedom Party,” the PİA official said.

Bozdemir believes that the ruling People's Alliance, comprising the AKP and the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), is aware that PİA may influence religious Kurdish voters in the next election.

Votes for pro-Kurdish parties have risen to 13.1 percent in 2015 from 1994’s 4.1 percent. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan would need support from a sizable part of the country’s Kurdish population, which makes up around 15 percent of the country’s total, to get re-elected in the next presidential election.

“The common thread between mainstream Kurdish politics and us is libertarian politics. We think that PİA will make an important contribution to politics in the next elections. Kurdish politics has predominantly a left-wing libertarian tendency,” Bozdemir said, adding that what Kurds lacked was a right-wing libertarian current.

“The People’s Alliance sees this too, but mainstream Kurdish politics has not realized this yet,” he added.

The Green Party, which focuses on issues such as climate change, environmentalism, ecology and gender equality, has not been able to formally establish itself for six months. Party members say that their politics has relevance among the populace, but the diminishing political sphere in Turkey has delayed the official establishment of their party.

Green Party co-spokeswoman Emine Özkan says that establishing a political party is a constitutional right, which has been violated for them.

“Normally, the documents mentioned in the Political Parties Law are delivered to the relevant authorities. Then, if there are no missing documents, a 'proof of receipt' is issued and the parties are established,” Özkan explains.

However, the Greens haven’t received any documentation to that end.

“We delivered the documents. We also communicated with the relevant department of the ministry for a month. However, due to the COVID-19 cases, the unit was closed and we could not reach anyone,” she explains.

What is happening may be a bureaucracy crisis, the Green Party official says, but notes that a state department cannot stop functioning for half a year.

“The government targets certain groups, which leads to violations of rights. For example, there is a demonization of LGBTI individuals. There is also a closure case against HDP. The Parliamentary seat of a deputy from the HDP was removed. These moves target pluralism and result in the shrinkage of politics,” she explained.

Özkan explains that new parties have been listed on the Court of Cassation’s website during the same time period, but they have been unable to find anyone to address their request.

Similarly, the head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) Reşit Akıcı says the party’s officials have visited Ankara over a dozen times, but have been met with the same problem.

A total of 26 parties were established last year, Akıcı says, but the applications Kurdish parties were rejected in an injustice done to the minority.

The KDP announced its establishment in November, but the interior ministry denied that any application had been received from the party. KDP members also say that they have tried numerous ways to deliver their documents, including courier services, via a notary, and e-mail, to no avail.

The overall pattern of the Turkish government at this time appears to be a focus on a crackdown on parties in order to consolidate its power, as evidence by its chokehold over the HDP, while pre-emptively sidelining political actors that are that seek to participate in the country’s ever-narrowing political arena.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.