In Turkey’s presidential election, the Kurdish vote is expected to have a noticeable influence.
In the wake of several decades of violent conflict between the Turkish government and Kurdish separatist rebels, the AK party in power today finally has been making progress towards peaceful compromise.
The Kurds reacted positively to Ankara’s inclusion in the process of the separatist PKK party leader and political spokesman Abdullah Öcalan, who is in prison, convicted as a terrorist.
This presidential election finds their expectations high.
Vahit Yılmaz, a Kurdish resident of Diyarbakır, said: “Off course I do. Kurds have had expectations for many years. It has never been like this. How can I put it? We are heading to the final.”
Who will Turkey’s ethnic Kurdish citizens vote for?
This 15-25 percent proportion of the electorate has always supported political candidates boasting their own Kurdish identity.
In this election, unprecedented in that the next president will be chosen by direct universal suffrage rather than by parliamentarians, they have Selahattin Demirtaş.
However, it’s thought that, in the interest of keeping the peace process on track, some might adjust their priorities and put their Kurdish identity a temporarily lower role.
Mehmet Emin Aktar, former head of the Diyarbakır Bar Association and a prominent activist, said: “If there were no peace process, if its importance for people wasn’t being discussed, I believe Mr. Erdoğan would get fewer votes from Kurdish citizens. The performance and personality of Mr. İhsanoglu, his unmoving attitude about the Kurdish issue and the problems of the Middle East do not make him attractive for Kurdish voters. I mean there will be no votes for Mr. İhsanoglu. This is what I see. Many Kurds believe that if Prime Minister Erdoğan is not elected the peace process will stop, and that we will go back to an environment of conflict — that it would deepen and society would suffer more. This is their concern. This motivates many people to support Erdoğan. The prime minister is using these concerns in his election campaign.”
There is a very firm support base for Selahattin Demirtaş among the Kurds and in the HDP People’s Democratic Party. But for him to qualify for the second round of voting he needs the support of conservative Kurds, who usually vote for the AK party led by Erdoğan.
Analysts say Erdoğan is paying special attention to this in his campaign.
According to Aktar: “If Demirtaş says, ‘let’s unify the Kurdish ballot,’ then he could draw votes away from Erdoğan. But so far it seems Demirtaş is focused on Turkey’s alienated people, such as the minority Alawites and those not happy with the Republican People’s Party candidate Ihsanoglu. Can that tactic work? Looking at the results of the 30 March local elections, I would say no. I don’t think this will bring more votes to Demirtaş.”
Kurdish votes in Turkey are distributed among three regions: the southeast, the east and other parts of Anatolia. In these regions, the AK party is the strongest, and can usually count on 50 percent of the votes. This is because the main opposition party in the country is seen by the Kurds as nationalist and statist.
In this context, if their votes were to swing substantially towards one candidate or another, it might make a significant difference.