Kurdish freedom movement

Delight and rising hopes

Esen Uslu highlights the economics and politics behind the huge defeat suffered by Erdoğan’s electoral bloc and the opportunities that have opened up

After an unequal and bitter campaign led personally by president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey went to the polls on March 31 to elect local mayors, councils and neighbourhood heads, and the results came early into the night.

Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its election allies lost their position as the leading political coalition across the country, and the Republican People’s Party (CHP) emerged as the winner in the major urban centres. The results created elation amongst the left, the Kurdish freedom movement and the secular-liberal milieu - many were delighted and raised hopes for the possible changes that might follow.


In some districts in Kurdistan thousands of security personnel and serving solders were forced to change their domiciles to enable them to vote, and they were taken to the polls on special buses with instructions on how to vote, in an attempt to alter the balance against the Kurdish freedom movement, and that succeeded in preventing the election of some candidates from the People’s Equality and Democracy Party (DEM - the current guise of the Kurdish freedom movement’s political wing).

But, despite those efforts, DEM successfully swept across the Kurdish provinces. It won three metropolitan cities, including Diyarbakır, Mardin and Van, as well as 58 other cities and 10 large towns. The appointed administrators of the central government in all those councils were ousted.

However, the elected mayor of Van, DEM’s Abdullah Zeydan, a former MP for Hakkâri province, was declared ineligible after his election on the grounds of a last-minute quasi-legal administrative intervention. In 2016, in a trial on trumped-up charges, he had been convicted and jailed, together with Selahattin Demirtaş, a leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples Democratic Party (HDP). They shared the same cell until 2022, when Zeydan was released and the restrictions on his civil rights removed.

Before the elections he applied to the Supreme Council of Elections and after a thorough examination it approved his candidacy. But on March 29, just five minutes before the end of the working day, the ministry of justice objected to the decision to remove restrictions on his civil rights, and claimed he should be ineligible. At the time the minister of justice was campaigning for the AKP candidate in Istanbul - that is Turkish democracy in operation in Kurdistan for you.

Despite that, two days later the election went ahead with Zeydan on the ballot paper and he was overwhelmingly elected with 245,573 votes. But the ministry then applied to the provincial election board, which promptly annulled his election. It declared that the second-placed candidate, the AKP’s Abdulahat Arvas - who won less than half of Zeydan’s votes, with just 120,147 - should be declared mayor of Van!


Meanwhile, the Islamist-nationalist, anti-Kurdish bloc led by Erdoğan has already presented its response to its local election defeat in terms of bombs and cold steel. Two major air operations were launched in the occupied Kurdish region of Iraq and allegedly many Kurdish guerrillas were killed. And now the foreign minister, Hakan Fidan, together with the head of the national intelligence organisation (MIT), are on a tour of the USA to garner support for further military action in both Iraqi and Syrian Kurdistan.

However, despite the bravado of the power bloc, it has already started to crumble. The Islamist Kurds and the Islamists on the right wing of the AKP had previously split and formed their own party, the YRP (New Prosperity Party), which supported the Erdoğan-led coalition during the 2023 presidential elections. But in the local elections they issued a statement declaring they would only support the AKP if it met three conditions: the export trade to Israel should stop forthwith; theAN/TYP‑2 radar, which is part of the THAAD missile system deployed at the Kürecik airforce base since 2012, should be removed; and pensions should be raised to the level of the minimum wage. When no such guarantees were forthcoming, the YRP stood independently and won more than six percent of the vote nationwide. Most notably it picked up almost 39% of the vote the in Urfa mayoral election, ousting the sitting AKP candidate.

Those three unaccepted conditions will surely continue to mar the Erdoğan power bloc in the coming period. So long as the Gaza tragedy continues, along with Erdoğan’s chummy relationship with Benjamin Netanyahu, Erdoğan will remain under attack by Turkey’s rightwing Islamists. His efforts to satisfy the Biden administration to obtain US support, along with his track record in the Nato expansion saga, will also remain under attack.

On the economic front, Erdoğan’s hands have largely been tied, now that the ‘hot money’ inflow has stopped - foreign debt has sky-rocketed, while rampant inflation has eroded the welfare of large sections of society. Meanwhile, the economic programme pursued by the AKP government - as dictated by the World Bank - does not leave any scope at all for the type of populist spending spree Erdoğan engaged in before the 2023 presidential elections.

The sad thing is that neither the CHP nor other smaller left parties have lifted a finger on those issues. The CHP’s campaign rhetoric was focused on putting an end to one-man rule, to be replaced with a ‘merit-based’ bureaucracy, and supporting a ‘rational’ economic policy. Such a lack of vision does not bode well for the future of the opposition. In fact the crumbling power bloc propping up Erdoğan may reconstitute itself as a strong force to avoid the currently expected defeat in the 2028 presidential elections - which may be called early.

So once more it is clear that the problem of democracy in Turkey is more and more dependent on the working class. Unless it can mobilise to organise, and lead the modern and traditional petty bourgeoisie, around a programme which meets the aspirations of the Kurdish people, the opportunities created by the AKP’s defeat in the local elections will remain unfulfilled.