The New Turkish Parliament: a Good Surprise
Lea Nocera 12 June 2015

When the HDP (Halkların Demokratik Partisi, People’s Democratic Party) announced that it would present a list for these elections, many believed it was a risky decision. Until now, the idealistic predecessors of the current party representing early pro-Kurdish parties, had always decided to run as independent candidates, the only stratagem to avoid the obstacle posed by the threshold that, however, never allowed them to win a significant number of seats in parliament. A candidate in Turkey’s first presidential elections in 2014, the HDP’s leading representative Selahattin Demirtaş certainly achieved a degree of success and so, while 9.76% of the votes seemed a laughable figure compared to the results achieved by the two other candidates, it certainly must have greatly encouraged many to approve the party’s decision to present a list.

With the polling stations closed and votes counted, the HDP had a little over 13%, winning 82 seats in parliament. This was an extraordinary result for which there are many reasons, although behind all this there was certainly the need for a change of direction regards to the political agenda presented by Erdoğan, increasingly marked by strong authoritarianism and a centralisation of power. The AKP lost nine percentage points falling from 49.8% in the 2011 general election to 41.8%, and in terms of seats from 327 to 254 (out of 550), thereby becoming unable to form a majority government and with plans for presidential reforms vanishing, since it would have required at least 330 votes. The de facto impediment to presidentialism, greatly hoped for by the current head of state, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, was the first immediate effect of these elections. None of the opposition parties really support this project and many different members of Turkish civil society from various backgrounds have spoken out against it. While at a national level the AKP remains the country’s first political party, in the regions of the Aegean and the south-east it is second, respectively behind the CHP Kemalist party and the HDP.  This cannot but have serious repercussion for the country’s life and political balance. The cards on the table have changed and various scenarios appear possible following these elections. Negotiations are being held to form coalitions between the four parties with seats in parliament, and while the HDP has excluded any possibility it will form an alliance with the AKP – a remote possibility but one debated during the elections – all other combinations remain open. The ultranationalist MHP, which won many votes in these elections, taking them from the AKP and gaining as many seats as the HDP, will probably hold the balance of power.

The parliament emerging from the June 7th vote is inevitably different. There are many more women (96), there are Armenian, Alawite, Rom, Yazidi and Syriac MPs, representing the plurality that characterises Turkish society. The merit goes mainly to the HDP, a party that presented an inclusive and pluralist message, in favour of the rights of all minorities and presenting itself as representing a greatly diversified and varied assortment of civil society’s groups. It is for this reason that being called a pro-Kurdish party is a little restrictive. There is no doubt that its original identity-linked element is important, as the electoral map shows, just as it is obvious that this party has inherited a great deal from both the history and politics of the various Kurdish parties that have succeeded one another over the years. It is through a decade of experience in an ongoing and controversial relationship with the state, continuously broken-off by violence and darkened by death, that the HDP obviously developed the language and means needed to work within a broader and heterogeneous political environment that goes beyond the Kurdish issue, or rather also using it as an example to demand overall change in the democratic and pluralist sense.

Seeing a return to parliament of legendary members of the Kurdish movement such as Leyla Zana, winner of the Sakharov Prize and for a long time persecuted due to her political work, is certainly a positive sign that also sees justice done with a legitimate representation the Kurds deserve in parliament with their 15 million citizens. However, as these elections prove, this would very probably not have been possible if the HDP had not taken a step forward promoting an agenda that includes many others, including those on the intellectual and secular left who do not identify with the CHP. “All of us in parliament” (Biz’ler meclise) was its election campaign slogan, a multiple “us” that symbolically also became a double candidature, with Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ, a man and a woman.

There have also been repercussion from the Gezi protests, when transversalism and pluralism appeared overcoming the distinction of individual issues – the Kurdish, the Alawite, Armenian, and also environmentalists, feminists, workers etc. – in favour of one single and more incisive agenda for the defence of individual rights, freedom of speech and greater democracy. This was a programme that relaunched the desires of a large part of Turkish society, tired of tensions, violence, oppositions and threats, proving it is ready to question national history, to address the chasms that filled the past. The HDP proved it was capable of this, calling for peace and calm when three days before the elections, tragedy caused even greater tension when a bomb exploded at one of its very crowded rallies in Diyarbakir. It proved this, returning to sender allegations of separatism and terrorism; justifying the presence of Turkish flags at its rallies as a natural event – which surprised many journalists ready to underline the counter-position between Turks and Kurds –  considering their commitment to a country that is also their own. Finally, the HDP’s electoral success certainly owes a great deal also to the very lively and active participation of its supporters, who in addition to having contributed to the election campaign, also comforted many people, giving rise to a sense of belonging and solidarity, of courage and devotion among those who in recent years have hoped that a new Turkey will not be only the one created at a desk by Erdoğan, by the AKP, but also a more equal, plural and open nation.

Translated by Francesca Simmons