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Jailed Kurdish leader Demirtaş announces he’s stepping back from political engagement

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Jailed Kurdish leader Selahattin Demirtaş, a two-time presidential candidate and the most prominent Kurdish politician in Turkey today, has announced on social media that he’s stepping back from political engagement “at this stage” in time.

Demirtaş, a former co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), has been behind bars since November 2016 on politically motivated charges.

Sharing two paragraphs from an interview that will be published on Thursday on the Artı Gerçek news website in a tweet posted through his lawyers, Demirtaş expressed his gratitude for constructive criticism directed towards him, adding that he’s stepping back from political engagement “at this stage,” although he’ll continue the struggle “like every comrade from inside the prison.”

The politician’s statement coincides with his article published on Artı Gerçek, in which he provides an analysis of the reasons behind the HDP’s poor performance in the May 14 general election, saying it wasn’t solely due to unfair competition.

The HDP ran in the election under the banner of the Green Left Party (YSP) because the party faces the risk of being shut down due to an ongoing closure case against it. The YSP secured 8.8 percent of the vote in the elections, while the HDP won 11.7 percent in the 2018 parliamentary elections.

Demirtaş stated that it would be “simplistic” to attribute the HDP’s failure in the election solely to such unfair conditions as the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its allies using all the resources of the state without limit, conducting a massive smear campaign against their rivals “without any regard for moral values” and “playing games at the ballot box.”

“The alarm bells have been ringing for quite some time now, and these election results serve as a final warning. The way to silence the alarm bells and play victory songs lies in accurate analysis and proper action,” Demirtaş said.

Stating that the HDP’s vote percentages decreased in 87 electoral districts, Demirtaş said it was mainly due to the party’s disorganized election campaign that lacked professionalism and the fact that the AKP and its far-right ally, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), had been conducting the campaign for the 2023 elections for the past five years.

“Our party intensified its campaign one month before election day, but it was still a half-hearted and disorganized effort. On the other hand, the AKP-MHP government has been engaged in a form of [social] engineering … particularly over the past five years,” he said.

According to Demirtaş, his attempt to conduct an election campaign from behind bars and his efforts to alarm the masses into working for a change of government have been misunderstood by some of his allies, who thought he was actually promoting himself.

“I acknowledge my own shortcomings. … I should’ve put in more effort and pushed for collaboration. It’s also necessary for all my colleagues to engage in self-reflection because they haven’t correctly deciphered the AKP-MHP system and failed to make timely and appropriate moves. They also haven’t taken measures against the perception operations conducted against me,” the jailed leader added.

Demirtaş said they need to make every topic, from the micro-level issues of society to the macro-level challenges, a main agenda and generate organizational and solution-oriented policies.

“Nobody can make significant progress through slogans alone,” Demirtaş said, adding that social collapse becomes “inevitable” if they fail to explain democratic modernity to a population that has been so heavily exposed to capitalist modernity and provide them with “alternative, beautiful and honorable ways of living,” along with the necessary institutions.

Demirtaş was an outspoken critic of Turkey’s ruling AKP and its leader, Erdoğan, before he was jailed. He ran in the presidential elections of 2014 and 2018 as a rival to Erdoğan. The imprisoned leader conducted his election campaign from jail for the 2018 election.

Demirtaş also actively supported the YSP’s and opposition’s presidential candidate Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s election campaigns for the May elections on social media through his lawyers.

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