In a recent development, a Kurdish leader who is currently imprisoned has announced his decision to step back from active involvement in politics. He has urged officials from his party to engage in comprehensive self-evaluation following their disappointing performance in Turkey’s recent elections.
The Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), known for its pro-Kurdish stance, participated in the parliamentary election held on May 14 under a different party name due to potential allegations of militant associations. However, they secured only 8.79 percent of the votes, compared to their 11.7 percent support in the 2018 elections. Despite this setback, the HDP remains the third-largest party in parliament following the recent vote.
Expressing regret for not being able to implement a policy that would have truly represented their constituents, the former leader of the HDP, Selahattin Demirtas, conveyed his apology to the people. While he intends to continue his struggle from prison alongside his comrades, he has chosen to withdraw from active political engagement at this stage.
Speaking from Edirne prison in northwest Turkey, Demirtas emphasized the need for his party to engage in self-reflection. He continues to deny any links between the HDP and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is internationally recognized as a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union, and Turkey itself. The PKK and the Turkish government have been engaged in a separatist conflict for many years, resulting in a significant loss of life.
Despite his imprisonment since 2016, Demirtas has remained a prominent figure in Turkish politics, regularly sharing political messages on Twitter with his extensive follower base of over 2 million people. Notably, the HDP and its allies did not nominate a candidate for the presidential elections and instead endorsed the main opposition candidate, Kemal Kilicdaroglu.
In the subsequent runoff on May 28, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan secured a 52.2 percent majority, extending his rule of two decades. Kilicdaroglu received support from 47.8 percent of the voters. While Demirtas plans to maintain his HDP membership, he has called for internal democracy within the party and emphasized the consequences of declining intra-party democratic practices, warning that it leads to a series of mistakes.
Demirtas had previously run for the presidency in 2014 and, despite being imprisoned, participated in the 2018 elections, securing 8.4 percent of the votes and finishing third. He revealed that he had expressed his willingness to run for president again, but his offer was rejected by the HDP leadership. He believes his candidacy would have increased their voter support, though he remains uncertain about the reasons behind the decision to reject his offer.
It is worth mentioning that Demirtas is currently serving a three-year prison sentence for insulting the president. Furthermore, he faces the possibility of a life sentence in a trial involving over 100 other HDP politicians, who are accused of inciting the deadly protests in 2014.
During his victory speech, President Erdogan declared that the release of Demirtas would not be permitted under his administration, referring to him as a “terrorist.” In contrast, Kilicdaroglu pledged that if he won the election, Turkey would abide by the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights, which called for the release of Demirtas.