The Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) has long been reminding the opposition bloc of its contributions to the 2019 municipal election campaign to demand “public and transparent talks.” (Illustration by Erhan Yalvaç)

HDP seeks to bring Turkish opposition to bargaining table

The pro-PKK HDP strengthened its hand vis-à-vis the 'table for six' by opting to field its own presidential candidate

The two co-chairs of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) double down on the politics of negotiation, which combines a concrete proposal with a threat.

First, one of the HDP’s co-Chairs Pervin Buldan announced that the party intended to contest the presidential election with its own candidate. Later, Selahattin Demirtaş, the party’s imprisoned former leader, said that the movement had not rejected a joint presidential candidate altogether. Finally, the other co-chair of the party, Mithat Sancar, explained that the purposes of fielding a separate presidential candidate were gaining recognition, entering negotiations and bargaining: “We won’t say ‘no’ if the table for six were to ask for public talks once the candidates are out there.”

By contrast, Tayip Temel, one of the HDP’s deputy co-chairs, issued a threat, warning that the “credit” they extended to the opposition bloc was “running out.” That approach represents an extension of the HDP’s earlier claim that the “table for six” would lose the next election without their support.

In truth, the HDP has long been reminding the opposition bloc of its contributions to the 2019 municipal election campaign to demand “public and transparent talks.” Yet, the Good Party’s (IP) reluctance to be seen in public with the HDP resulted in that approach’s failure. Some politicians of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) suggested that the HDP could control some ministries – which the CHP headquarters had to promptly reject.

The HDP may have indirectly blocked the potential nomination of Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavaş and IP’s Chairperson Meral Akşener, but that is not enough. Keeping in mind that fringe parties within the opposition bloc – which, pollsters say, enjoy the support of just 1% – demand president-like powers, it would make no sense to expect the HDP, which has over 10%, to settle for de-marginalization and criticism about Demirtaş’s imprisonment.

Recently, the opposition failed to react strongly against the Constitutional Court’s verdict to temporarily freeze the payment of financial support from the Treasury to the HDP, which proceeded to announce its decision to contest the election individually. The HDP also distanced itself from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) by refusing to meet that party’s representatives regarding a proposed constitutional amendment introducing safeguards against discrimination against women with headscarves.

HDP’s bargaining power

The HDP strengthened its hand vis-à-vis the “table for six” by opting to field its own presidential candidate. It does not matter whether they plan to have their candidate drop out in the first round or enter negotiations for the second round. If the opposition bloc refuses to negotiate terms with the HDP, they will effectively risk a second-round battle. By contrast, the People’s Alliance, formed by the AK Party and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), will have a better shot at a first-round victory.

The HDP’s most recent decision divided the “table for six” supporters into two groups. Some argue that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan would win a second-round victory unless the HDP were to get on board. They urge the opposition leaders to be bolder. Others accuse the HDP of having reached a decision that would benefit the People’s Alliance, criticizing that party for “letting the authoritarian regime survive for five more years.”

The HDP announced its decision to contest the presidential election individually to reach a goal beyond extracting concessions to endorse CHP Chairperson Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu or another candidate. The party sees the 2023 elections as a major opportunity. In this sense, it does not want to limit itself to securing the release of Demirtaş or preventing the appointment of trustees to HDP-controlled municipalities.

It is possible to summarize the HDP’s expectations as follows:

1. To publicly negotiate the endorsement of a joint presidential candidate.

2. To ensure that the opposition agrees to meet some concrete demands, including the recognition of Kurdish as a native language and the restructuring of municipalities in a way that amounts to autonomy.

3. To become a party to the power-sharing agreement.

Those demands clearly demonstrate that the HDP’s plan to “rebuild” Türkiye is much more radical than what CHP and other members of the opposition bloc have in mind. At this time, the potential consequences of the closure case against the HDP remain a mystery. That uncertainty makes it harder for various political parties to make calculations, too. If the court bans the HDP, the opposition will talk about “democracy,” as the CHP and Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA) try to lure away HDP voters. Otherwise, the HDP is likely to set a higher threshold for negotiations. The outcome of that closure case may usher in a new era in alliance politics.

[Daily Sabah, January 12 2023]

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