Turkey is on the verge of local elections with multiple rallies a day, polarization, rumors, strong – words of leaders and candidates, but above all, with a fairly large elephant in the room.

Since we have just over two weeks for D – day, the approach of parties to Kurdish votes and the pro – Kurdish party HDP (People’s Democratic Party) is still uncertain, if not contradictory. In particular, this mentioned situation of contradiction appears in declarations of Nation’s Alliance parties, mainly IYI Party (Good Party) with its Turkish nationalist grassroots. You may well say all parties seek to divert Kurdish votes to their side; however, they –mainly the Nation’s Alliance – have doubts and fears about taking steps or aligning with pro-Kurdish party for not to be labeled as “terrorists” by President Erdoğan.

It is no surprise that the People’s Alliance, AKP (the Justice and Development Party) and the MHP (Nationalist Movement Party) are toughening their language against the HDP (People’s Democratic Party).  After all, in his rallies and each interview, President Erdoğan has been criticizing the rapprochement between the opposition CHP (Republican People’s Party) and HDP (People’s Democratic Party). “It’s sad to see the main opposition party in such a situation,” Erdoğan said during a rally in southwestern Denizli province, implying it’s a pretty low point in cooperation with a party that has links to a terrorist organization that has caused the country major damage for decades. “They have now made up a lie; I have allegedly declared the Kurds as terrorists who voted for the HDP (People’s Democratic Party). They saw that they were unable to sell their arguments, so they resorted to lying. This is what Mrs. Akşener is doing,” said Erdoğan at a rally accusing opposition leader Meral Akşener of “distorting” his remarks about the Kurdish question. He added that his lawyers filed a legal complaint against her.

On the other hand, the HDP previously announced that it would not nominate mayoral candidates in the upcoming municipal elections in seven major municipalities, including Istanbul, Ankara and İzmir. “The HDP under the control of the terrorist group PKK has not nominated candidates for mayor in many municipalities; they are supporting candidates for CHP. Similarly, they are discussing how to share administrations in many municipalities,” Erdoğan said and slammed CHP (Republican People’s Party) for allying with a terrorist – related party.

The outstanding debate of the previous week was the respond given by President Erdoğan to HDP Co – Chairman Sezai Temelli. The following remarks by Sezai Temelli caused an outrage: “We’re going to win in ‘ Kurdistan’ and in the west we’re going to make the AK Party and MHP (Nationalist Movement Party) lose.” The Turkish president reiterates the same response to the statement made by HDP Co – Chairs in his rallies: “There is an eastern Anatolia, a southeastern Anatolia, a Black Sea region, an Aegean region, and a Marmara region in my country. However, there is no such region as ‘ Kurdistan ‘ in my country. If anyone is dreaming of a Kurdistan, they should go to northern Iraq”

President Erdoğan had positioned himself on the side of Kurdish rights in his early years of power and was rewarded in polls with more votes than pro – Kurdish HDP party in the region. However, he changed his strategy after the failure of the peace process and turned to Turkish nationalism. Starting with general elections in 2015, but mainly after the failed coup attempt in 2016, President Erdoğan has deepened his relationship with MHP. With the recent economic crisis, it is quite clear that Erdoğan and his party are relying on the support of MHP to be successful in the upcoming local elections, but the question is “is nationalist support sufficient to meet the goals?”

Here comes the elephant in the room! Kurdish votes will have a major impact on local elections in Turkey on March 31 with nearly 6 million voters. HDP had 11.7% of the votes in June 2018 general elections, but more importantly they had 12.7% in Istanbul, 6.4% in Ankara, 11.5% in Izmir, 16.9% in Mersin, 7.3% in Antalya and 13.5% in Adana. The metropolitans mentioned are the ones with intense competition between the alliance of the People and the Nation in March 2019.

In the upcoming elections, Kurdish voters in south – eastern Turkey are highly likely to vote for the HDP, and according to media outlets, the HDP follows the strategy of “undermining the votes of the People’s Alliance in the West” and has also decided not to run candidates in major cities such as Istanbul and Ankara to help elect CHP (Republican People’s Party) candidates. While there is no doubt that Kurdish votes are totally a game – changer, the leaders of the Nation Alliance, Mr. Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and Ms. Meral Akşener, continued the same old hesitant and fearful attitude. Whereas, President Erdoğan visited the region’s cities last week, reiterating his Islamic and conservative rhetoric in which he is comfortable and knows the positive feedback.

There’s a fairly large elephant in the room for upcoming local elections, called “Kurdish votes,” whoever asks for success must raise the stakes.

Stay tuned!

Other highlights from past week

  • Survival discussions

Before the municipal elections of this month, Turkey’s main ideological debate revolves around the issue of national survival. People’s Alliance’s component parties, AKP and MHP, argue that the country must unite around their alliance due to attacks encountered in recent years, i.e. failed attempted coup in June 2016. In the opposite case, if Nation’s Alliance (CHP and IYI Party) succeeds in the municipal elections, they will open a debate on the presidential system that from their point of view will be a threat to the state’s survival. The Nation’s Alliance, on the other hand, argues that the election is only voting for local administrators and nothing to do with the state’s survival.

  • Gezi indictment

Istanbul’s 30th Heavy Penal Court accepted the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office’s indictment of lifelong aggravated imprisonment for 16 suspects for their alleged role in attempting to overthrow the government by inciting the Gezi Park protests in 2013. Prosecutors accuse the defendants of holding a series of meetings to plan the riots and to contact foreign activists on how to initiate riots. The other charges are “forcing the government to resign or call for early elections” and “preparing the grounds for a civil war or coup” unless the previous demand is met.

Opposition figures said the renewed investigations aimed at polarizing public opinion and increasing Erdogan’s rally support ahead of local elections in late March.

In 2013, hundreds of thousands of people marched in Istanbul to protest a plan to build a replica of an Ottoman barracks in downtown Gezi Park. The protests turned into nationwide protests against the then Prime Minister Erdogan’s government.

  • Marching on International Women’s Day, Istanbul

On Friday, thousands of people, mostly women, gathered near Istiklal Street for a march for marking International Women’s Day, and denouncing violence and demanding for more rights. The marchers ‘ path was blocked by hundreds of riot police to prevent them from moving along the main pedestrian avenue of the district. Police then fired tear gas spray and pellets to disperse the crowd, and scuffles broke out as they pursued the women off the avenue into side streets.

The rumor is that prayer was called during the march in Istanbul, and by whistling a group of people protested it. On Sunday, Erdoğan slammed the opposition at the rally in southern Adana province; “A group of people supposedly gathered for Women’s Day at Taksim Square on the previous day, backed by CHP and HDP, and they misbehave by whistle during the prayer call. This image in Taksim shows us clearly why the election is of utmost importance to our country and people’s future.” Erdoğan said.