The Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) shifts its strategy, as the 2015 general election in Turkey approaches. HDP Co-Chair Selahattin Demirtaş recently met with numerous religious leaders from the Islamic-wing in Turkey, a move that the HDP hopes will enable it to pass the 10 percent threshold in the upcoming general election. The recent elections, especially the March 30 local elections, displayed notable support for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government.
The AK Party received the majority of votes from that religious Kurdish population in southeastern Turkey during the March 30 elections. In addition, while the Kurdish population in Turkey is nearly 20 percent, the HDP only received about 6.5 percent of Kurdish votes in the recent elections. The consistent trend in Kurdish votes in southeastern Turkey led the HDP to seek votes from Kurdish Islamic groups and change its strategy for the 2015 general election. However, the HDP's stance in politics and its cooperation with certain groups since its establishment has been criticized by its own deputies like Altan Tan. Tan, a deputy from Diyarbakır, harshly criticized the HDP in early May of 2014 for not taking into consideration the base of religious voters and said, "The HDP has failed to include Muslim democrats, liberals and a significant segment of the Kurdish people and limited itself to radical Turkish leftists."
The ideology of the HDP mainly stems from its leftist-socialist wing, which mostly promotes Marxism-Leninism. The pro-PKK Kurdish party received much criticism not only from the Turkish population but also from the Kurdish population following its call on their supporters to take to the streets in support of Kobani, which was besieged by ISIS militants. The violence left 34 people dead across Turkey – 12 of them in Diyarbakır. Most of the casualties were sustained in clashes between supporters of the PKK and supporters of the Free Cause Party (HÜDA PAR) that the PKK accuses of having ties with ISIS.
HÜDA PAR is a Kurdish-based conservative political party, which was founded in December 2012 in southeastern Turkey. Additionally, Orhan Miroğlu, a prominent Kurdish columnist and ex-politician, spoke to Daily Sabah and stated, "The HDP must expand ideologically, and if it does not shift its stance from being a secular, 'Kurdish-Kemalist' ideology, it will not be able to succeed in the upcoming elections once again." Miroğlu added: "To gain the favor of Islamist Kurds and to express its sincerity, the HDP must first condemn the Assad regime and apologize to supporters of HÜDA PAR. The HDP must take the crises in the Middle East into consideration and modify its secular stance to obtain sustainable and active progress towards the 2015 elections."
Furthermore, similar to the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), the HDP has looked toward marginal groups to gain votes. During the presidential election in 2014, Demirtaş sought support from Alevi groups and disregarded conservative Kurds in the southeast. However, as part of its new strategy for the upcoming elections, the HDP had previously organized the Democratic Islam Conference, with the participation of around 300 Islamic scholars, academics, authors and experts in mainly Kurdish populated Diyarbakır. The conferences were criticized by many for being controversial and described as unsuccessful.
HDP members met with a controversial name from the Gezi riots in the framework of this new strategy, the leader of the anti-capitalist Muslims, İhsan Eliaçik. Eliaçık is the leader of marginal groups that fueled the Gezi Park riots and made controversial "religious" statements. In regard to the HDP coordinating with marginal groups, Vahdettin İnce, a notable Kurdish columnist and author, stated: "The HDP cooperated with various marginal groups in Turkey during the last few elections and declared them as leaders in Parliament, like Ertuğrul Kürkçü [with a Marxist-Leninist background]. İhsan Eliaçık is also one of those controversial names; thus, it is evident that the HDP is once again aiming toward the wrong groups."
İnce added: "If the HDP wants to expand and address everyone in Turkey and gain votes from the AK Party, the CHP and MHP, then it must reach out to Turkey's traditional institutions and to those opinion leaders. Such an approach will support and encourage peace and unity among all citizens. However, this seems highly unlikely with the HDP's current approach."
As the reconciliation process continues with full commitment, negotiations between the government and the HDP to end the decades-long PKK conflict also continues.