The lead-up to Turkey’s general election today has been marred by violence, with bomb blasts at a party rally killing 2 and injuring over 200 on Friday. The newly-formed HDP (People’s Democratic Party) are entering the general election for the first time, and claim to have been the victims of 140 violent attacks during their campaign. No suspects have yet been identified for these most recent attacks. Incumbent president Tayyip Erdoğan has been criticised by the HDP for going ahead with his own rally after news of the bombings in the city of Diyarbakir, rather than paying his respects to the dead. Mr Erdoğan is constitutionally required to remain neutral during the campaign, but instead has been vocal in his support of the ruling AKP (Justice and Development Party) he founded, and their proposed measures to give sweeping new executive powers to him as president.
The AKP require a three-fifths majority in order to call a referendum on the constitutional changes needed to bring about this shift of executive power to the president. This has been a central tenet of their campaign going into the election. The HDP, in turn, require 10% of the national vote to win seats in parliament. Recent polls show that they look likely to surpass that hurdle and wins dozens of seats, which would prevent the AKP from passing their new measures and possibly even force them to form a coalition government for the first time since coming to power in 2002.
Formed from a coalition of previously independent ministers, the HDP is a radical democratic movement built on the pro-Kurdish movement. Historically, Turkey’s politics have been characterised by a struggle between the armed forces and pro-Kurdish parties seeking to establish an independent and free Kurdistan. The HDP, however, believes that Kurdish freedom can more likely be achieved by reforming Turkish democracy and decentralising government to allow ethnic minorities a level of self-governance.
The strength of the HDP is that they have extended their policy platform beyond the struggle of the Kurdish people to include other minorities who feel disenfranchised and voiceless in today’s Turkey. They have pledged to “bring humanity back into politics”, with an emphasis the rights for women, LGBT people and workers. Free water, electricity, healthcare and education are all on the agenda, as well as promises to decrease youth unemployment and increase the minimum wage.
Likened to Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain, the HDP join a growing transnational movement of radical leftism in Europe that could have serious consequences for the European Union in the not-too-distant future. The outcome of today’s election in Turkey will be another important chapter in a critical period of the EU’s history.