What good can shutting down the People’s Democratic Party do and to whom?

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Translated by: Selin Çetin

Hello, good day. Yesterday, the Chair of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, announced the Human Rights Action Plan. It was not discussed in much detail, and I don’t believe it will be because the situation in Turkey is apparent. The current laws, the constitution, and how they are enforced are also evident. Therefore, any positive words spoken here will, obviously, not create much enthusiasm. On the other hand, Metin Feyzioğlu, the President of the Bar Association, said the following, which caught my attention: “It is not a description of the stars, but a plan and road map that will provide access to the stars”. Actually, Feyzioğlu’s high praises of the Human Rights Action Plan may be an assurance that it will not achieve much. We saw how extemporaneous his knowledge about Turkey’s constitutional government, democracy, pluralism, and human rights was. This plan seems as though it was constructed “for appearances’ sake”. For the head of the AKP government, which has been in power for almost 20 years, to still have to pledge to the Turkish people that “no one will be punished for their opinions”, in itself shows how dire the situation is. There is no need to dwell on this too much, but I am certain we will probably come across this again, somehow.

However, on the day Erdoğan announced the Human Rights Action Plan, that is, yesterday, the Supreme Court Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office started an investigation on the People’s Democratic Party (HDP). Likewise, Nationalist Movement Party Chair Devlet Bahçeli made a very clear statement echoing his previous views that, “If Turkey is a constitutional government, the HDP must be shut down at once and parties with other names should not be established in its place”. At some point, the Chair of the Fatherland Party (VP) Doğu Perinçek repeated his demand for the HDP’s closure claiming: “The HDP voter base is shifting to the VP and the AK Party.” Anyone who is slightly cognizant of the region, knows the Kurds, lives there or reads reliable sources can recognize that this is not a correct statement at all. In particular, the state probably knows this fact best. As far as I am aware, the Justice and Development Party also has a very strong National Vision side— among the Kurds — which it inherited from the National Vision movement. Of course, this side has changed a lot during this process, transformed, along with the AKP. But some have observed and explained that amongst the conservative Kurds in Turkey, there are people who share more secular views which are closely aligned with the National Vision movement. 

Therefore, Doğu Perinçek is trying to imply something else in his statement, which can be deduced easily. Actually, there is no need to stay on this matter for too long however, we can say the following. If we return to the title of this broadcast, when we ask, “What good can it do and to whom?” for parties such as the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), and the VP, who confine themselves to very ideological views, they perceive anyone who is not a member of their party, as a kind of “other”, even as an enemy. Thus, any shortcoming that bestows upon the People’s Democratic Party and its members, can be considered as advantageous for the MHP and the VP. However, apart from bringing joy to these two parties, I honestly doubt there will be any other benefits. 

Only, the main aim of those who advocate for the closure of the HDP, are not after benefiting themselves or Turkey, rather they want to harm the HDP, its members, and its supporters. In other words, they share a common resentment towards the wide scope of people which forms the People’s Democratic Party. All this time, the Turkish government targeted this —the September 12 constitution change targeted this— the people in power previously had the same objective, and the ones that followed always intended to punish this movement, to push the parties of this movement out of the system, during the constitutional court hearings deciding the fate of the HDP.

Let’s discuss similar instances in the past. The People’s Labour Party (HEP) was established on June 7, 1990 and shut down on July 14, 1993. The Democracy Party (DEP) – that is, the reserve party that was established on May 7, 1993 while the closure case of the HEP was ongoing – as a substitute for HEP, its life span lasted a little more than a year, and it was shut down on June 16, 1994. The People’s Democracy Party (HADEP) which was established as a substitute for the DEP, on May 11, 1994, ceased its operations on March 13, 2003. There is also the Democratic People’s Party (DEHAP), but it later rescinded itself. In its place on November 9, 2005 the Democratic Society Party (DTP) was set up; its closure was on December 11, 2009. The Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), which was established in its place, rescinded itself too in 2014. Basically, the BDP, that is, this movement, started to be represented by the HDP that was founded on October 15, 2012. When examined, HADEP survived for 9 years. HDP is already heading for 10 years – let’s mention that. It was founded on October 15, 2012, so I think it outlived HADEP. If we calculate, there is a discrepancy between the number of days both have existed for but, HDP has had a little longer life than HADEP. In other words, currently HDP holds the record for the longest life span out of all its predecessors, and now it is also being targeted.

During this lengthy process, we learnt that the more these parties were shut down, the stronger the parties were established in their place.  Despite all the difficulties, they sometimes entered the elections under the name of their party, and sometimes with independent candidates. They won very important mayorship elections in highly populated regions and became deputies in major cities. They became deputies in Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Adana, Mersin and Kocaeli, and their influence still remains in those regions today. HDP’s biggest success was in the June 2015 election and since then, their vote has always exceeded 10 percent. When the 10 percent barrier was first imposed, it was by the September 12 putschists, to mainly block the Islamist and —in their opinion— Kurdish parties. It is possible to say that all these votes are somehow protected by the HDP, and even the potential they will increase, is high. 

Here, rather than accredit this to HDP’s success, it would be more accurate to attribute this to the failure of the system. Obstacles are constantly being placed in front of the HDP, trustees are appointed to their municipalities, and Mayors as well as MPs are jailed. The HDP’s co-chair, Selahattin Demirtaş is imprisoned, the other co-chair Figen Yüksekdağ is too. Lots of people are incarcerated, lawmakers and mayors alike, but the system that punishes them and that creates this iniquity, does not give them another choice. Namely, similar to what we mentioned in the beginning, people who are fed up with this don’t say, “it is neither working with these parties, nor are we granted permission to prosper, let’s instead join this party, seek these pursuits, or let’s focus on either the Justice and Development Party (AKP) or the Republican People’s Party (CHP). You cannot change people’s political preferences and wills by changing political party names, you think you’re showing people your strength, but this is obviously not a show of power.

So what happens? Will the HDP be shut down? Will a closure case be filed? As a result of this investigation, an indictment can be prepared, and whilst this is being done, the Supreme Court of Appeals Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office claims there is a completely “independent judiciary” (similar to how it is written in the new Human Rights Action Plan). However, we know that there is no such principle. We also can distinguish that the prosecutor was elected to the constitutional court in the last constitutional court member elections, as soon as they were appointed as the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor. Therefore, unfortunately, it is not possible to expect a free, impartial judicial process independent of the Supreme Court or any other institution.

Let’s say a lawsuit is filed, and the constitutional court has started to discuss this case. It is not possible to predict what the outcome may be. However, I do not think that Bahçeli’s expectations will be met in both processes, both regarding the opening of the case and the decisions of the constitutional court on this matter. The reason for this is a political reason. Ultimately, Erdoğan will make the decision. Although the supreme court of appeals prosecutor will decide whether to open the case or not, and eventually the constitutional court will make the decision —if a lawsuit is filed— Erdoğan will be the main determinant in all these areas. Because we know that the answer to why Osman Kavala, Selahattin Demirtaş and Ahmet Altan are detained today, is not because of law. Like the answer to many things, in a country like Turkey where the separation of power has vanished, for something like this to be sovereign from Erdoğan is impossible. If only, despite him, such critical issues in Turkey could be handled fairly, if the Supreme Court Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office could really utilise legal criteria, if the constitutional court could freely evaluate this with legal criteria, but there is a limit to such levels of optimism. It is useful to be realistic, this is a political process. The question here is not what the court will take or what the Supreme Court Chief Public Prosecutor will say, but what Erdoğan will say to this. He may appear to support this at this stage; however, I am of the opinion that a judicial process that will result in the closure of the HDP, will put Erdoğan in an even more difficult situation politically. Nevertheless, he is in a crisis he cannot solve due to his “Après moi, le deluge” (after me, the deluge) logic and with the HDP, he can mainly make this decision with a perspective of revenge. 

What do I mean by revenge? I am referencing the latest local elections on March 31st. If the HDP had put forth its candidates, then it would have been very difficult for the CHP to win in big cities, and even impossible in many places – especially in Istanbul. Here, with its stance, HDP, made Erdoğan taste one of the worst defeats of his political life. They did not do this solely by themselves, but they play a very significant role. And today, the most important reason why Erdoğan is so obliged to Bahçeli and why Bahçeli is not enough to ensure his continued rule, again, is because the HDP is likely to take part in the bloc against Erdoğan in the first general election. If he knows that this will not happen, his outlook will change. Therefore, Erdoğan can take a purely psychological approach here, and all these obstacles imposed on him, can sanction the HDP’s closure as some kind of accountability for the failures inflicted on him. There is such an option, but even if the HDP will be shut down, it will be short-lived because they will re-enter the political scene by forming a new party with another name. As a matter of fact, now there are summary proceedings taking place, the job security of many deputies is shaky, the state has already seized almost all of its municipalities. In other words, they will do something to prevent the establishment of a new party with a different name, as Bahçeli said, but this is unprecedented. Maybe they’ll find a solution for it, I don’t know, but whatever they find, they will not have the chance or opportunity to change the decision of the voters. Maybe, a benefit to them would be to satisfy some of their feelings for the short term, to be able to demand culpability from someone, but I don’t believe they can reap any benefits for the mid to long term. More importantly, I don’t suppose there will be any advantages for Turkey either. 

The problem is not HDP itself as a party, but the climate that created the HDP. The climate that made HDP so powerful. This is a reality in Turkey. These people, close to 6 million people – maybe there will be more – these people are not ignorant. You cannot ignore these people’s votes. Without taking what these people want, what they are searching for, what they expect, seriously, without making an effort to meet their expectations, you cannot establish peace or democracy in Turkey. And what did these closures or closure efforts, the pressures on them, for example, the trustees appointed to the municipalities, bring? What did they change in a positive sense? All of the news is generally negative. We do not see that among the trustees there are mayors who show exceptional performance, who attempt to mingle with the public, etc., none of them are preoccupied with this. Generally, trustees are remembered with their lavish expenditures. Still, the images of the mayor of Diyarbakır when he first took over the municipality; the luxury, the images of all the extravagances the trustee mayor built in the office of his predecessor, come to mind. What happened next? The elected mayor was both dismissed and jailed, and quickly convicted. All this was done under the name of a constitutional government, but we know that these were all political actions. 

Yes, shutting down the HDP will not bring any short-term benefits to some small parties or some rigid ideological parties, other than displaying to people that “What we said, was done”, and those who have lost something because of the HDP, especially the Justice and Development Party, will have no benefit other than resolving their pursuit for revenge -the returns of which will be very limited. But such an action will not work at all. I’ve given previous examples, none of them worked. As well as not functioning, the masses that support HDP, their sense of patriotism, their sense of pride for Turkey, will erode. In summary, it would be a discriminatory act. I hope this will not be done. If Turkey truly had a constitutional government, we would have different people, like lawyers and members of the judiciary consulted for such matters. However, it is clear that there is no point in addressing the members of the judiciary or trying to get their attention on this issue. Hopefully, the AK Party managers, especially Erdoğan, who lived through very similar events before, and who know that the failure rate of this is extremely high, do not let him make this grave error another time.

Yes, that is all I have to say, have a good day.

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