Turkey’s opposition, which has fielded a joint presidential candidate, has the best chance ever of ending the years-long rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, jailed Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtaş told Financial Times.
Turkey will hold presidential and parliamentary elections on May 14. Erdoğan, who was first elected president in 2014, is seeking re-election, while an opposition bloc of six parties have nominated main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu as their joint candidate.
Demirtaş’s former party, the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), is lending outside support to Kılıçdaroğlu’s candidacy by not fielding its own candidate.
Demirtaş, who has been behind bars on bogus terrorism charges since November 2016, told the Financial Times that a unified opposition that included Kurds could prevent a descent into “dictatorship.”
“Step by step, Turkey has moved towards an authoritarian regime. If Erdoğan wins this election, Turkey will have transitioned to a new kind of dictatorship,” Demirtaş said in response to questions submitted through his lawyer.
“Erdoğan has managed to stay in power by dividing society . . . The opposition’s unity as it goes to the polls is not only important to eliminate this polarization but to win the election.”
The HDP, which is the third largest party in parliament, is not included in the opposition bloc, known as the Nation Alliance, due to the İYİ (Good) Party’s dislike of the HDP on allegations that the party has links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the international community.
The HDP denies any links to the PKK.
“No party that does not receive the support of Kurdish voters has ever come to power. Kurds will be decisive in this election as well,” Demirtaş said, referring to the kingmaker role attribute to the Kurds.
But Demirtaş, who wields influence over the HDP grassroots through tweets posted by his lawyers, said he had not decided whether to back Kılıçdaroğlu in his bid to end Erdoğan’s two-decade rule.
Erdoğan has called Demirtaş, who has twice challenged him for the presidency, a “terrorist” and rejected accusations of autocratic rule, pointing to his half-dozen electoral victories since 2003. The president’s critics accuse him of using the courts to punish political rivals and of dismantling democratic norms.
Turkey has ignored a 2020 European Court of Human Rights ruling to free Demirtaş, a former human rights lawyer who was convicted on the basis of political speeches that often targeted Erdoğan.