Sources close to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) have said that opinion polls presented to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan prompted him to stop a case to shut down the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). The indictment against the HDP did not turn out to reinvigorate public support for the ruling party, which continued to poll at around 30-32 percent, or for its far-right ally, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). Erdoğan, whose loyalists have recently gained the majority at the Constitutional Court, decided to defer the plans to shut the HDP down. Sources say the decision also means ruling out a snap election in 2021.
The indictment seeking the closure of the pro-Kurdish party, drafted by the chief public prosecutor at the Supreme Court of Appeals, was rejected on March 31 by the Constitutional Court on the grounds that it had procedural deficiencies. Of the 15 seats at the court, eight were filled by Erdoğan appointees in recent years. The indictment was unanimously rejected, hinting at Erdoğan’s possible endorsement of the decision.
Sources claim that Erdoğan decided to take a step back after receiving the latest polls, conducted while the case was being reviewed, which put support for his ruling AKP at around 30 to 32 percent, the lowest level in the party’s history thus far.
Snap election no longer in sight
Meral Akşener, the leader of the Good (İyi) Party, which in recent months has seen its polling numbers skyrocket, had said earlier in 2021 that she was expecting an election to be held in June 2021 as well as some strategic moves by the AKP prior to it. That is why the case against the HDP was widely interpreted as a precursor of upcoming snap polls. Yet, the move did not have the effect on public opinion that Erdoğan and MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli expected it to.
Four days after the indictment was sent to the Constitutional Court, the HDP engaged in a significant show of force on the occasion of Newroz, a festival that Kurds observe to celebrate the arrival of spring. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, tens of thousands of people flocked to squares in every predominantly Kurdish city. The wide attendance suggested that if the closure case was part of a plan by Erdoğan to disillusion Kurds from politics and decrease their participation in a potential election, it probably did not have the expected effect. The polls pointed in a similar direction.
Erdoğan typically pays great attention to public surveys and he has two separate firms conduct election polls for him every month. In addition, he receives surveys on hot button issues. Two election polls carried out after the announcement of the case against the HDP showed no significant gains for the AKP or the MHP, which led AKP executives to reconsider the idea of shutting the HDP down.
The indictment was ultimately returned to the Supreme Court of Appeals by the mainly Erdoğan-controlled Constitutional Court while preparations for a snap election were suspended.
In a statement on Monday, Erdoğan highlighted the year 2023 for the election schedule. For a long time, he had refrained from spelling out a specific date.
Although the case against the HDP has come to a halt, the crackdown on members of the party continues. Leading human rights advocate Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, one of its members capable of reaching out to conservative segments of society, was arrested a few days ago after being stripped of deputy status. A similarly conservative-friendly HDP figure, Ayhan Bilgen, is also behind bars.