During the last 10 days, there has been a change in the discourse of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. During the party's parliamentary group meetings and TV programs in which he appears, he severely criticizes the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) to the same or even greater extent than he lambasts the Justice and Development Party (AK Party). This is because some opinion polls, including the survey studies which were requested by the CHP, have revealed that there is a movement in the voter base from the CHP toward the HDP, so much so that during the recent Parliamentary group meeting, HDP Co-Chair Figen Yüksekdağ accused the CHP of "failing to be the main opposition party," and criticized it for being opposed to the HDP. Well, is there really an outflow from the CHP's base to the HDP? If so, what is the reason for this development?
Ever since the presidential election campaign, HDP Co-Chair, Selahattin Demirtaş, has abstained from making speeches based on the Kurdish question, as expected from an all-too-familiar HDP member. Even though he sometimes addressed the rights of Kurds, he mostly adopted a rigid opposition style against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan with some of his statements, including insulting words against the president.
Demirtaş almost never mentioned the HDP's foremost demands, including the right to have mother-tongue based education, during his visits to cities in Western Turkey. This strategy was compatible with jailed PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan's desire to make the HDP a "party of Turkey" by merging with the Turkish left. However, election results revealed that this strategy of the HDP somewhat channeled urban voters who wavered between the HDP and the AK Party toward the HDP, rather than attracting the CHP's voter base. This was probably because it was almost certain that Erdoğan would be elected president, and therefore what would be the harm in giving some slight support to the HDP?
However, there is a key factor that distinguishes the upcoming general elections from the Aug. 10 presidential election. The HDP has decided to run as a party in the general election - which means that a huge mass will not enter Parliament if the HDP fails to pass the election threshold of 10 percent. This picture will work mostly in favor of the AK Party, since it is the only alternative party that fills the gaps which the HDP cannot. In such a case, it is foreseen that the AK Party can easily take 330 seats in Parliament - which the AK Party needs in order to hold a referendum on a new constitution. Furthermore, there are also those who argue that the AK Party can achieve 367 parliamentarians, a quorum which will allow it to pass a new constitution in Parliament on its own, without any requirement to hold a referendum. The latter possibility frightens the CHP voter base. This is why writers and opinion leaders who are normally known for their affinity toward the CHP draw attention to the aforementioned "danger," and call on people to vote for the HDP rather than for the CHP, which will enter Parliament in any case. Because of this reason, the CHP is sorely afraid of the disruptive impact of the votes that the HDP will receive from the CHP's own votes.
My personal opinion is that the HDP'S presence in Parliament will be a gain in any case. However, the risk that the HDP takes should not be underestimated. If the HDP falls below the required 10 percent and cannot enter Parliament, it will have to face the consequences of its own preference. However, if it can enter Parliament, and particularly as long as the reconciliation process stays on track, it will certainly feel drawn to the AK Party, rather than to the bloc of the CHP and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), as we saw with the new constitutional drafts that were offered by political parties following the 2011 elections. The AK Party and HDP's understanding of a new constitution are a lot similar to than their mutual strong opposition would lead us to believe. It would not be surprising if Turkey's first civil constitution arises from the partnership of these two parties.
About the author
Hilal Kaplan is a journalist and columnist. Kaplan is also board member of TRT, the national public broadcaster of Turkey.