The battle over the Turkish Left

Published 09.03.2015 00:38

The 2015 parliamentary elections, like several others since 2002, remain highly predictable: The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) will be in the high 40s. The Republican People's Party (CHP) is most likely to be just shy of breaking 30 percent. Meanwhile, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) will presumably receive roughly 15 percent of the vote. The million dollar question in this otherwise predictable affair relates to how well the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) - which, according to recent opinion polls, is currently jumping rope with the 10 percent threshold. On which side of the mark the party finds itself on June 8, 2015, might send shockwaves through the Turkish Left.

Certainly not losing sight of the historic nature of the upcoming race, the HDP has been quite active in the transfer market: Over the past weeks, the party has successfully secured the services of several high-profile figures with no political future elsewhere. In late February, Turkish media outlets reported that AK Party founder Dengir Mir Mehmet Fırat and Professor Mithat Sancar, a former member of the Wisemen Committee, had struck a deal with HDP executives to run for public office in June 2015. Last week, former Gaziantep Mayor Celal Doğan, who controlled the Southeastern metropolis between 1989 and 2004 for the Republicans, announced that he had not been approached by the CHP and joined the HDP ranks. With the final draft of nominee lists due on April 7, there is still some time for the party to track down household names.

With the HDP campaign already underway, there has been no shortage of skeptics questioning the leadership's decision to participate in the 2015 parliamentary elections as a party rather than endorse independent candidates - a break away with the Kurdish political movement's electoral strategy of the past decade. HDP faithfuls, however, recall last summer's presidential race where HDP Co-Chairman Selahattin Demirtaş received 9.8 percent of the vote and argue that, if anything, the party has scored some additional points by helping take the Kurdish reconciliation process to the next step. They, furthermore, point out that many secular-minded urbanites, who had long been on the fence between the CHP - whose perceived ineffectiveness represents a major turn-off- and the HDP, which, they thought, did not have a real shot at passing the threshold. Presenting itself as a young, energetic and passionate alternative to the seemingly outdated and elitist Republicans, the HDP seeks to convert secular-minded urban-based millennials to win big.

Surely enough, some valid questions still need answering: First and foremost, no observer has a concrete idea about the number of aforementioned on-the-fence secular urbanites. What the Gezi Park protests and other recent developments should have taught us, though, is that the group indeed looks bigger on social media than in real life. The second (and perhaps more important) problem relates to campaign logistics: With no real presence at the local level, political parties simply cannot improve their performance and reach out to new voters. Considering that the HDP largely remains isolated to predominantly Kurdish parts of the country and a handful of metropolitan areas, it will take more than a few familiar faces to score a historic victory.

Either way, there is no denying that the 2015 parliamentary elections will have a major impact on the future of left politics in Turkey: If the HDP manages to break the 10 percent mark, they will have taken their operation to the next level and will concentrate on nationwide outreach over the next four years. If the Kurdish political movement ends up losing big, they will remain the most powerful opposition group in the country and electoral volatility will prove smaller than originally imagined. At this point, however, the vote remains too close to call.

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