Turkey’s opposition parties must move beyond identity politics and develop an overarching narrative if they are to stand a chance of winning the next elections, Bekir Ağırdır, head of prominent pollster KONDA, told T24 on Wednesday.
While voters are turning away from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), they remain hesitant about the alternatives, Ağırdır said.
“The breakaways from the AKP won’t go back, but unless (the opposition) can produce a political relationship where they can rest their hopes and establish trust, they will remain outside of the election,” he added. “A drop in participation will work in favour of the government.”
Simply relying on their traditional base will not be enough for opposition parties to overcome President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the pollster said. “In the trio of conservatives, seculars and Kurds, conservatives always have bigger numbers. Then, (Erdoğan) will have a chance to win another election despite all his mistakes and flaws.”
To attract disappointed AKP voters the opposition needs a new narrative, according to Ağırdır, and it must include Kurdish citizens. “We do not have any chance to build a new life without Kurds also being part of these new compromises and alliances over their own needs and demands,” he said.
The predominantly Kurdish eastern and southeastern regions have been a crucial electoral battleground in recent elections, with the AKP competing directly with the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).
The HDP has become the first party of its kind to repeatedly overcome the nationwide 10 percent electoral threshold to enter parliament, expanding its Kurdish base while winning votes from secular groups. In doing so, it helped deprive the AKP of is parliamentary majority for the first time in June 2015, and a similar dynamic is likely to prove decisive at the next elections scheduled for 2023.
The government believes the HDP vote would fall by several percentage points if the election threshold is brought down, with strategic voters less incentivised to back the party to damage the AKP, Ağırdır said. Senior AKP figures have repeatedly floated the idea of lowering the barrier in recent months, a move also likely to benefit their far-right allies in the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).
However, according Ağırdır, Turkey’s current population projections mean the HDP vote is just as likely to increase. “If there are one million new voters added every year, the percentage of Kurds in that is 20 to 23 percent, not 18 percent as in the general population,” he said.
“If conservatives and seculars vote solely for their representatives on the basis of their cultural identities, Kurds will vote for the Kurdish party that represents them. Thus, rather than falling from 13 percent to 7 percent, the HDP could reach 15 percent with its own natural voter base alone in the upcoming elections,” he added.
In this context, the government “has no other strategy left” and will pursue an identity-based platform, making it “inexplicable” for opposition parties to rely on traditional identity politics, Ağırdır said. “The outcome of an election that plays out over cultural identities is more or less obvious.”
The growing importance of Kurdish voters already appears to be changing political calculations. AKP officials have been “sending out feelers” in Diyarbakır, Turkey’s largest majority-Kurdish city and a cultural capital, suggesting a resumption of talks with Abdullah Öcalan, the jailed leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Amberin Zaman reported for Al Monitor on Tuesday.
The 2015 collapse of the peace process with the PKK has damaged the government’s electoral prospects in eastern and southeastern regions, and renewed moves to end the forty-year conflict could prove crucial in winning back support from the HDP. No details of the talks have been made public yet, except that “the old format no longer applies, meaning the HDP and the PKK won’t be at the table,” Zaman said.
Meanwhile, the centre-left secular main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), is currently holding a series of talks in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region in northern Iraq, “in a bid to shed its anti-Kurdish image”, she said.