Nergis Demirkaya / DUVAR

Amid years of intense pressure and persecution from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party is preparing to host their 4th extraordinary party congress on Feb. 23, uniting around themes of change and struggling against the ruling party with democratic strategies. 

“Now is the time for change. It is the time to take common steps to change the government via a democratic transformation, and the democratic alliance needs to be strengthened,” announced the HDP about the goals of the congress.

Blasting through the 10 percent threshold in 2015 that was established following the 1980 military coup to prevent pro-Kurdish parties from reaching parliament, the HDP has faced a systematic campaign of suppression by the AKP and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Dozens of the party’s democratically elected mayors were removed from office during the state of the emergency period that followed the 2016 coup attempt on terror charges that critics say are excessive.

Between the March 2019 local elections—which saw the HDP achieve success in the eastern and southeastern provinces, which feature predominantly Kurdish populations—and the present, 32 HDP mayors have been stripped from their posts in total.

“We believe the time has come for the changing of power. This government can no longer govern, and it is falling apart on every side. Therefore, we are describing the period ahead of us as a period of democratic change. As the HDP, we declare ourselves to be an important part and actor in this process, and state our desire that the country be governed by a democratic administration,” said HDP group deputy chairman and Istanbul deputy Saruhan Oluç. 

Opponents of the party have claimed that it is the political wing of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), though prominent politicians, including jailed former co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş, had attempted to distance it from the PKK, and leading up to its unprecedented success in the 2015 elections, the HDP has maintained its stance as a party of Turkey. Oluç emphasized this, adding that the current government is trying to restrict the HDP to the status of a regional party. 

“All of our organizations and structures are quite clearly united in the idea of being a party for all of Turkey and conducting politics oriented around all of the country. Rather than being squeezed in the geography of Kurdistan, on the contrary, we want to organize everywhere in Turkey, confront problems everywhere in Turkey, and have the intention of creating solutions to all of these problems. We are doing this as a part of our decision to be part of a democratic alliance,” Oluç said.

Though it is anticipated that there will be major changes in the party in terms who it fields as candidates in the next general election, it is possible that party co-chairs Sezai Temelli and Pervin Buldan could remain in their positions, as they will have only served one of the maximum two terms allowed by party rules. 

Jailed former co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş’s letter was read in 2018’s congress.

The HDP has reportedly invited the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) to the congress, as well as a number of other opposition parties both inside and outside of parliament, including the recently-established Future Party (GP), founded by former PM Ahmet Davutoğlu, and another party that is expected to be founded in the near future by former Deputy PM Ali Babacan. Davutoğlu and Babacan were both former AKP founders and Erdoğan allies. The party has not sent an invitation to the AKP’s far-right coalition partner, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), and is not expected to invite the AKP.

“I can’t give an exact date, but I don’t think the election will happen in 2023. There is no rule about gaining more than 50% of votes in the parliamentary elections, but there is in the presidential elections. Therefore, the parliamentarians will be elected according to the polling rates, but Erdoğan could not win right now,” said Oluç, adding that he believes the general elections scheduled for 2023 will be held earlier as a result. Oluç also claimed it was unlikely Erdoğan would return to a parliamentary system, which would amount to a huge political loss for him, and greatly diminish his chances of winning another election.