[OPINION] The future of Erdoğan and the Kurdish vote

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Ekrem Dumanlı

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his party, unable to accept losing the İstanbul mayoral election on March 31, finally persuaded the Supreme Election Board (YSK) to cancel the results, one-and-a-half months after the polls closed, even though the opposition candidate, Ekrem İmamoğlu, was given the mandate to govern Turkey’s largest city.

Never has there been such a disgrace in previous elections. Everyone knows that the people who rig the polls in any country are those in power because it usually requires the might of the state apparatus.

The local elections were not fair or free. The ruling party controls 95 percent of the Turkish media. The remaining 5 percent is there for the sake of appearances, in order to be able to say, “Turkey has a critical media.” Unfortunately, those media outlets, while critical, sometimes feel the need to compromise.

In this unfair, unequal election atmosphere, Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost both the capital city of Ankara and İstanbul. In the president’s own words, losing İstanbul in the election means losing the country. Actually, his party lost Ankara to opposition candidate Mansur Yavaş in the 2014 local elections, but then they interfered in the counting process and prevented Yavaş from becoming mayor. This time, playing the same game in Ankara was not possible due to a clear win in the numbers.

In İstanbul, İmamoğlu’s win is as clear as the victory in Ankara. Their weak, incalculable arguments explicitly show that the AKP doesn’t care about the truth. All their objections turned out to be empty. Despite that, the YSK nullified the results, a move that means another nail in the coffin of Turkish democracy.

Now people are asking: What will change with the re-run of the İstanbul election? Namely, how will Erdoğan, who lost despite using all the power of the head of state and enjoying virtually total media support, win the election in İstanbul this time?

It’s not too difficult to guess Erdoğan’s game plan. After the June 2015 general election, when he lost his single-party majority for the first time in 13 years, he forced parliament to hold a new election and in the meantime somehow managed to make security threats and instability priorities for the voters.

One of the main actors in the new İstanbul vote is Kurdish citizens. It is no coincidence that the lawyers of jailed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan finally were able to meet with their client after a hiatus of eight years.

It seems the ruling AKP, which accused the opposition of making an alliance with the PKK, started talks with the PKK leader in order to take İstanbul back.

Why?

Because the AKP believes that one of the main reasons for their loss in İstanbul was the Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). Despite jailing their leader, Selahattin Demirtaş, for more than two years, the HDP’s support for the opposition gave Erdoğan a noteworthy defeat.

Now Turkey’s “deep state” and “deep PKK” are seeking ways to eliminate the Kurds’ influence in the new polls.

The “deep PKK” previously helped Erdoğan in a number of instances. Öcalan, who has never embraced Demirtaş’s rhetoric, plays games with the “deep state.” The resumption of his lawyers’ visits has sparked a suspicion that suggests the two entities are trying to draw up a roadmap for the election.

Can Öcalan call on Kurdish voters to support the AKP’s candidate, Binali Yıldırım? Yes, he can, since he is in prison. Are there some people out there who will listen? Sure, there are. Öcalan’s influence on the Kurds must not be underestimated.

However, this time the situation is quite different.

A majority of AKP voters may express unease about such support from the PKK, which was previously used as an allegation to undermine the opposition’s efforts.

It seems that this time Kurdish voters, who played a key role in the March 31 elections, proud to help shake Erdoğan’s throne, will not listen Öcalan’s message coming from İmralı Prison, where he has been held since 1999, because they have received their fair share of the escalating suppression by the government in the last five years, developing a natural resistance to Erdoğan.

At this point, Erdoğan may try to use peace negotiations with the PKK as a carrot, in order to attract the Kurd’s attention.

However, this is also a dead end since his election partner, Devlet Bahçeli, the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), would not let that happen.

On top of everything, the AKP has been experiencing an intra-party crisis since the election losses. Former President Abdullah Gül and former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu clearly opposed the cancellation of the İstanbul election results. Even members of the AKP criticize the one-man rule and nepotism involving some high-profile party figures.

Erdoğan long ago lost his ability to create a success story. His only game is to rig the new election. Neither Kurdish voters nor the nationalist grass roots will be convinced to accept easy bargains.

The period of Erdoğan falling from grace has started, and it is impossible to stop. And the only one to blame for this is himself. His reshuffling inside the party under the pretext of “fatigue” and his overindulgence of family members and his close circle have pushed the intra-party grievances to a point of no return. What kind of a fatigue was it that spared only Erdoğan?

Now even the AKP grass roots clearly see that the fatigue has bound Erdoğan hand and foot. His flashy schemes are far from convincing the masses. In social terms, the end is inevitable. It appears there is a limit to corruption, shamelessness and inferiority.

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