Jailed Kurdish leader Selahattin Demirtaş, a two-time presidential candidate and former co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), has said in an interview with the Artı Gerçek news website that the party rejected his offer to become a candidate in the May 14 presidential election without explanation.
Demirtaş, the most prominent Kurdish politician in Turkey today, has been behind bars since November 2016 on politically motivated charges.
In his interview with Artı Gerçek on Thursday, the politician was asked about the decision of the Labor and Freedom Alliance, a group of left-wing parties in Turkey including the HDP, not to field its own presidential candidate but rather opting to support the main opposition’s Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu to increase his chances of unseating President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
“I’d expressed to our party administration that I was ready to become a presidential candidate and that I could contribute more with democratic moves by taking the election to the second round. Additionally, I stated that my candidacy could also increase our party’s vote share. … However, my proposal was rejected without any explanation. I still don’t know the reason for it,” Demirtaş said.
Yet, HDP spokesperson Ebru Günay responded to Demirtaş’s claim about his possible candidacy on Thursday and said the party did not consider it due to his legal situation and that Demirtaş had suggested nominating a female candidate.
Günay said two powerful earthquakes that hit Turkey’s south in February, claiming more than 50,000 lives and leading to massive destruction, caused the party to change its stance about nominating its own candidate.The HDP had said at the time that the tragedy and the destruction caused by the earthquakes forced the party to do its best to work for the unseating of Erdoğan to save people from similar tragedies.
As a result, the party supported Kılıçdaroğlu’s candidacy in order not to divide the opposition vote.
Erdoğan on May 28 became the winner of a runoff that will extend his 20-year rule until 2028, receiving 52.1 percent of the nationwide vote, while his main rival, Kılıçdaroğlu, got 47.8 percent.
Regarding the short, medium and long-term consequences of Kılıçdaroğlu’s failure to unseat Erdoğan for Turkey, Demirtaş said the country will become more authoritarian, impoverished, polarized and increasingly dependent on foreign powers.
When asked about the general consensus that the Erdoğan government’s pressure on the Kurdish political movement would be more severe following the runoff, Demirtaş replied that one thing they haven’t done so far is carry out “mass killings” and that they would likely add “diluted cultural genocide alongside brutal violence.”
Referring to the runoff on May 28 as an “operation,” Demirtaş claimed that the election’s real winner was Kılıçdaroğlu, but that Erdoğan officially won the race due to such factors as “election fraud, overseas votes and the votes of people who were recently granted citizenship.”
Demirtaş said the parliamentary election on May 14 was also conducted on “unequal, unjust and illegitimate grounds” with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) using all the resources of the state for spreading “lies and defamation” against its rivals.
“The conditions for a democratic competition didn’t exist in Turkey, which has spent the last seven years under complete authoritarianism. Therefore, the legitimacy of the results will always be in question. Despite being aware of this reality, the opposition made significant mistakes by acting as if they were facing a normal government and legitimizing the regime,” he added.
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.
Regarding his political plans for the future, Demirtaş said he’s stepping back from political engagement “at this stage” in time but that he isn’t resigning from the HDP.
Demirtaş stated that the HDP is in great need of “intra-party democracy,” and he described the way to achieve this as enabling all party members to elect leaders at all levels, granting them a say in important decisions and allowing them to oversee the party whenever and wherever they desire.
“All of my criticisms and suggestions towards our party are completely well-intentioned, constructive and aimed at making a contribution. No one should attempt to use my criticisms to undermine the HDP. I am a member of the HDP, and I will continue to remain one,” he said.
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 and Kılıçdaroğlu’s election campaigns for the May elections on social media through his lawyers.