In a major boost for Turkey’s main opposition candidate, the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and its leftist allies have announced their support for Kemal Kilicdaroglu in the presidential election on May 14.
The move could tilt the balance in favor of Kilicdaroglu, who faces incumbent Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is seeking a third term in office.
The HDP, which is the third-largest party in parliament and represents about a fifth of Turkey’s population, decided not to field a presidential candidate and instead urged its voters to back Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the People’s Republican Party (CHP) and the head of the Labour and Freedom Alliance. The alliance is a coalition of secular, nationalist and socialist parties that aims to end Erdogan’s authoritarian rule and restore democracy and human rights in Turkey.
The HDP and its allies said in a statement that they had two strategic goals: “The first is to end the one-man regime. And the second is to become the most influential force in the democratic transformation.” They added that they believed that Kilicdaroglu was “the most suitable candidate” to achieve these goals and called on “the people of Turkey to vote for the Labour and Freedom Alliance in the parliamentary elections and for Kemal Kilicdaroglu in the presidential elections.”
The HDP’s co-leader Mithat Sancar said that the upcoming vote was “the most crucial in Turkey’s history” and that they had decided to support Kilicdaroglu after consulting with their grassroots and allies. He said that they shared common values and principles with Kilicdaroglu, such as peace, justice, equality and pluralism.
The HDP’s endorsement could be decisive in a tight race between Kilicdaroglu and Erdogan, who has been in power since 2003 and has faced growing criticism for his crackdown on dissent, media freedom, civil society and minority rights. Erdogan has also been accused of mishandling the economy, which has been hit by inflation, unemployment and currency devaluation.
The HDP has been a vocal critic of Erdogan and his policies, especially his military operations against Kurdish militants in Turkey’s southeast and neighboring Syria and Iraq. The HDP has also advocated for a peaceful resolution of the Kurdish issue and more autonomy for the Kurdish regions. The HDP has faced severe repression from Erdogan’s government, which has jailed thousands of its members and supporters, including former co-leaders Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag, on terrorism charges. The HDP has also faced the threat of dissolution by the Constitutional Court for alleged links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long armed struggle against the Turkish state.
The HDP has denied any ties to the PKK and said that it was being targeted for standing up to Erdogan’s regime. The HDP has also faced violence from nationalist groups and security forces, which have attacked its offices, rallies and supporters. In 2015, two bomb attacks blamed on Islamic State (IS) group killed more than 100 people at an HDP rally in Ankara.
The HDP’s decision to back Kilicdaroglu could also have implications for Turkey’s relations with its Kurdish neighbors and allies, such as Iraq, Syria and Iran, as well as with Western countries that have expressed concern over Erdogan’s authoritarianism and human rights violations. Kilicdaroglu has pledged to restore Turkey’s ties with its regional and international partners and to pursue a more constructive and inclusive foreign policy.
Kilicdaroglu has also promised to reverse Erdogan’s constitutional changes that granted him sweeping executive powers and to restore parliamentary democracy and judicial independence in Turkey. He has also vowed to end the state of emergency that Erdogan imposed after a failed coup attempt in 2016 and that has been used to crack down on his opponents. He has also pledged to release political prisoners, lift restrictions on media and civil society, reform the education system, fight corruption and revitalize the economy.
Kilicdaroglu faces a tough challenge from Erdogan, who remains popular among his conservative and religious base and who has mobilized his loyal media outlets, state institutions and security forces to support his campaign. Erdogan has also portrayed himself as a strong leader who can defend Turkey’s interests and sovereignty against internal and external threats. He has accused Kilicdaroglu of being a puppet of foreign powers and terrorist groups who want to divide and weaken Turkey.