Move to ban HDP sparks criticism from Turkey’s opposition figures

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A recent move by a Turkish prosecutor asking the Constitutional Court to shut down the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), the third-largest group in parliament, has attracted widespread criticism from opposition leaders and prominent politicians in Turkey.

Bekir Şahin, a prosecutor for the Supreme Court of Appeals, made the request on Wednesday, arguing in an indictment that the pro-Kurdish party was trying to “destroy the indivisibility between the state and the people.”

HDP Co-chairpersons Pervin Buldan and Mithat Sancar on Wednesday described the move in a press statement as “a heavy blow to Turkey’s democracy and the rule of law,” arguing that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) was using the judiciary as a tool to redesign politics.

Referring to the AKP and its ally, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the leaders added: “This incident underlines the deep helplessness of the AKP-MHP bloc, which cannot  outdo the HDP ideologically or politically and thus aims to eliminate it by way of the judiciary.”

Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu on Thursday spoke at a party event in Tekirdağ, saying that Turkey should abandon the practice of shutting down political parties by way of the judiciary.

“Political parties are indispensable elements of democracy. Those who receive public support continue to exist, while others end up in the trash heap of history,” Kılıçdaroğlu said, adding that the ruling AKP would be unable to contribute to Turkey’s democracy as long as its only aim was to stay in power.

“Political legitimacy is earned through public support. It is disrespectful to our people to try to shut down through the courts a political party that received the votes of some 6 million people. Our democracy can only thrive in an environment where different ideas can be freely expressed,” Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA) leader Ali Babacan, said in a tweet.

A former minister and founding member of AKP, Babacan resigned over “deep differences” about the direction of the party in July 2019 and launched his rival political party DEVA eight months later, in March 2020.

Ahmet Davutoğlu, another former AKP heavyweight who later parted ways with the party and established the rival Gelecek (Future) Party, criticized the latest move to ban the pro-Kurdish party on social media, arguing that it would “disrupt public peace.”

The decision to ban the HDP is “not legal, but political,” the SOL (Left) Party said in a written statement, adding that it was made by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his ally MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli.

“It should be known that this decision won’t be able to ban the will of the voters, just like the violent and oppressive politics that have failed for decades. We will stand by the HDP and against this attempt to shut it down and continue to support democracy, freedoms, peace in society and universal law,” SOL emphasized.

Sırrı Sakık, a former member of the Turkish Parliament from the HDP, told BBC Turkish service that the decision to close the HDP must be reversed.

“We want to solve our problems through democratic politics. We are tired of seeing death, violence and blood, so don’t offer them to us again and again. The Kurds are striving to do politics democratically and struggle to protect that effort in order to solve the Kurdish problem. Everybody needs to take lessons from this,” he said.

“I’m against banning political parties because it seems like giving someone who allegedly committed a crime capital punishment. It leads to irreparable consequences and it’s not right,” Prof. Dr. Fazıl Hüsnü Erdem, a founding member of DEVA and an academic from the Dicle University in Diyarbakır, told BBC.

The HDP’s future was thrown into question when Bahçeli began calling on Turkey’s top court to take action late last year.

Erdoğan has long portrayed the HDP as the political front of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The party denies links to PKK and says it is working to achieve a peaceful solution to Turkey’s Kurdish problem and is only coming under attack because of its strong opposition to Erdoğan’s 18-year rule.

The political and legal assault on the HDP, which intensified after a truce between the Kurdish militants and Erdoğan’s government broke down in 2015, grew even stronger after Erdoğan survived a failed coup attempt in 2016 that was followed by a sweeping political crackdown.

Hundreds of HDP politicians, including the party’s former co-chairs, are behind bars on terrorism charges, while most of the 65 HDP mayors elected in the predominantly Kurdish Southeast in 2019 have been replaced by government-appointed trustees.

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