Opposition leader slams Erdoğan ally's call for HDP's closure as attempt to 'punish' six million voters

Future Party chairman Ahmet Davutoğlu has slammed President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's nationalist ally Devlet Bahçeli over his call for the pro-Kurdish HDP to be banned, saying such a move would “be punishing” six million voters.

Future Party leader Ahmet Davutoğlu (R) and Felicity Party leader Temel Karamollaoğlu hold a meeting in Ankara on Dec 17.

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Future Party chairman Ahmet Davutoğlu has criticized Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli over his call for the closure of the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), saying such a move would “be punishing” the electorate of the HDP.

“When the closure of parties is adopted as a method in democracies, not only just those who run that party, but also those who voted for that party would be punished,” Davutoğlu said during a joint press conference with Felicity Party (SP) leader Temel Karamollaoğlu on Dec. 17.

Davutoğlu hosted Kamollaoğlu at the headquarters of the Future Party in the capital Ankara. Following the two opposition leaders' meeting, a joint press conference was held.

Davutoğlu, who served under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as foreign minister and then prime minister until 2016, said that Erdoğan had in the past taken a strong stance against the closure of parties.

“We would challenge the political parties in the political arena and take our fight with terror groups in the security arena, and do both of them well. The past experiences have shown us that we cannot make any gains by disregarding the votes cast by our citizens in certain areas, in this way or another, or through the method of closing a party; on the contrary, this would make large masses come under terror propaganda,” Davutoğlu said.

Bahçeli last week called on the government to close the HDP, accusing the party of “sheltering terror.” “This bed of terror and separatism must be closed,” Bahçeli tweeted on Dec. 11.

After ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputy chair Numan Kurtulmuş dismissed Bahçeli's call, the MHP leader reiterated his stance, this time urging for constitutional changes to enable the move.

"The HDP must be closed and not reopened. No tolerance should be shown to any party organization that takes as its reference ethnic separatism and terrorism," Bahçeli tweeted on Dec. 16.

Turkish courts have banned pro-Kurdish parties in the past on charges of alleged ties to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), drawing criticism from Turkey's Western allies. But moves supported by Erdoğan's AKP have since made closing parties down more difficult.

Bahçeli, whose party is the fourth biggest in parliament and whose comments in the past have appeared to influence government policy, suggested a change in the constitution, political parties law or the penal code if necessary.

HDP co-chair: If our party is closed we will come back stronger

HDP co-leader Mithat Sancar responded on Dec. 17 in an interview with Turkish broadcaster Fox TV, saying the HDP had the support of millions of people.

"Shutting the HDP means shutting down democracy in this country, it means silencing 6 million people," Sancar said. "In the past, six of our parties were closed down and what happened? If our party is closed we will come back stronger."

The HDP, founded in 2012, won 11.7 percent of the vote in the 2018 parliamentary election. It has been targeted by authorities in a crackdown in recent years under which thousands of party officials and members have been arrested and dozens of its mayors and lawmakers unseated.