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Kurdistance: A Victory in the Turkish Elections

While the Turks have had some mixed reactions to the outcome of the recent Turkish parliamentary elections, Kurds have been rejoicing as potential Kurdish parliamentarians have exploited a loophole in the election system and gained a foothold in the Turkish parliament.

Pre-Election Concerns

Kurdish political parties have struggled to gain access to the Turkish parliament for years. In fact the last time members of a Kurdish political party gained parliamentary seats was in 1990. Those four parliamentarians (Leyla Zana, Hatip Dicle, Orhan Dogan and Selim Sadak), in an attempt at advancing the Kurdish cause within Turkey, took brave steps within their term. First, when taking the oath in parliament they said it in both Turkish and Kurdish (an illegal act at the time), which began an avalanche of controversy. They were stripped of their diplomatic immunity, tried for crimes against the state, and imprisoned for over a decade. Even after more than 15 years, Turkish and Kurdish views on these events differ.

As if the legacy of imprisoned Kurdish parliamentarians isn't enough to cause concern, the 10% threshold required for a political party to enter into the Turkish parliament is. Basically, as a political party to enter into the parliament they have to take the highest vote in their district and also take 10% of the vote nationally. So if a Kurdish candidate wins their district but their party fails to make the 10% threshold, the next candidate in line would ascend to the parliament. So for years, parliamentarians from the ruling national party have been representing regions where they did not win the popular vote. However if you run as an independent candidate, the 10% threshold is waved, and whoever wins the popular vote goes to parliament. Turkish expat blogger James in Turkey notes the rise of independent candidates:

This election has seen nearly 700 independent candidates across the country. Never before in a Turkish election have there been so many. With the AK party's victory just about certain, it might be interesting to note that at least six independents have entered parliament already.

Among them is the former prime minister Mesut Yılmaz, who was running as a candidate from the Black Sea town of Rize. He is a former member of the centre-right Motherland Party – given his MP status, he could be a candidate for leadership of the Democrat Party, which has literally been vacated in the last hour.

Ahmet Türk and Aysel Tuğluk, co-leaders of the Kurdish DTP, have also entered parliament. The size of their DTP contingent remains to be seen. An interesting pro-Kurdish name is Sebahat Tuncel, who is running in Istanbul but is currently serving a prison sentence – she has also guaranteed a seat.

A Strategy to Win

It did not escape the notice of Turkish bloggers the lack of Kurdish political party DTP candidates in the election. The lack of candidates however did not mean that the party was not active in the region. They had their candidates run under the independent banner and worked with the public to gain votes, as Rasti illustrates:

But DTP has been working to overcome the obstacles placed in its path by those in power who keep Kurds out of the political process. Specifically, it's been educating its voter base on the new ballots and how to find DTP candidates on the ballots. This is no small task given that Amed”s (Diyarbakır) ballot is some two meters long. DTP has hit upon the idea of creating and passing out templates for the ballots, that have a hole in the place where the independent DTP candidate's name is located. Another plan is to use pieces of string to measure the distance to the independent's name. Failing these helps, DTP is encouraging voters to take underage children with them, who can read the ballot for them, a rule that is applied throughout Turkey.

All of these methods have been designed to help the illiterate voter find the DTP candidate on the ballot. It's important to remember that not only is this a racial issue, but it's also a women's issue, because many poor women in “The Southeast” are illiterate. More can be read about DTP's efforts at voter education at TDN.

In order to see what I mean, check out this video from Youtube, prepared for Şirnax's independent DTP candidate, Hasip Kaplan:

Results and Triumphs

This rather unusual political strategy paid off, with the Turkish parliament gaining 23 pro-Kurdish candidates. As the results were coming in, Rasti put it best:

THE KURDS ARE GOING TO ANKARA

It looks like some of the election returns are coming in and the Kurdish people will have 22 deputies to represent them in the Turkish parliament, for the first time since Leyla Zana, Hatip Dicle, Selim Sadak, and Orhan Doğan were elected in 1991.

I am so happy, I am crying.

Of the 23 winning candidates, 8 of them are women (including one who won while imprisoned and will be released to take her seat). And as Hevallo noted, all of these “independent” candidates will have the opportunity to form a parliamentary block, as it has been reported that:

The Independents of ‘One Thousand Hopes’ who were elected to the Turkish parliament will join the DTP after they have taken the oath. Thus proving the success of a strategy to enter the Turkish parliament and represent the Kurdish people.

We can only hope that this new strategy has wonderful payoffs for the political future of Kurds in Turkey. In any case, I share the same sentiment as Turkish blogger Talk Turkey has for the new Kurdish parlimentarians:

Congrats to the Kurdish-Turks who won seats in the parliament!

1 comment

  • Visitors to this site may wish to know that Mr. Ahmet Turk, one of the independets mentioned in Ms. Deborah Ann Dilley’s article, expressed his disappointment in th results. He attributed the less-then-satisfactory results to the strong showing of the established non-ethnic based parties, especially the ruling Justice and Development party.

    For example, in Diyarbakir, the J&DP received 41% of the votes. NAP received 13%. Independents got 47%.

    Overall, the independents, including the ones from non-Kurdish regions got 5.2% of the national vote. Demographers estimate that Kurds make up 15 to 20% of the population of Turkey.

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