Kurdish party makes historic breakthrough in Turkish poll
Published 09/06/2015 | 02:30
Emboldened by an historic election victory that has transformed their country's political landscape, Turkey's Kurds say they are determined to press Ankara to restart peace efforts to end three decades of insurgency.
The pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) cleared a 10pc hurdle to enter parliament for the first time at Sunday's parliamentary elections, picking up 80 of 550 seats and smashing President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's hopes for a huge win for the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP)
The victory marks a stunning result for the Kurdish minority, which comprises nearly 20pc of Turkey's population and was for decades the victim of state repression.
While Mr Erdogan has denounced the party as a front for terrorists, the HDP, under its charismatic leader Selahattin Demirtas, enjoys support beyond the Kurdish community and, despite the likelihood of extensive political wrangling to come, hopes to put pressure on Ankara over the peace issue.
"I have never been more hopeful about peace," said 28-year-old Aziz Duran, who was selling traditional simit bread in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir, where on Sunday thousands of HDP supporters spilled into the streets, cheering and setting off fireworks.
"For years we have been treated as less than flies. The state has always insulted us. Now we have 80 representatives in parliament."
Last night Mr Erdogan's dreams of more power lay in tatters. The AKP had been in a tight race to keep its hold of the country's National Assembly - a far cry from its stated aims of winning a sweeping victory, then changing the country's constitution.
The AKP could still find itself forced into a coalition, although a senior party official told Reuters it expected a minority government and an early election.
To win a majority, the party needed at least 276 seats in the 550-seat assembly - but with 99pc of the votes counted, the AKP had won 258 seats, or a little over 41pc of the vote.
The HDP won 80 seats, and will enter parliament for the first time.
This will mean it will become the country's first pro-Kurdish party in the Turkish parliament, with 11.7pc of the vote. Since 2013, there has been a ceasefire between Turkey's government and the Kurdish insurgents, the PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party).
More than 40,000 people were killed during the insurgency between 1984 and 2013 but since then Kurdish rights have begun to be accepted.
Mr Demirtas, co-chairman of HDP with Figen Yuksekdag, said the victory was one for all minorities, women, workers and the oppressed.
"It is a joint victory of the Left," Mr Demirtas said.
The election was a momentous day for minorities in Turkey, as three Armenian candidates, AKP's Makar Esayan, HDP's Garo Paylan and the Republican People's Party's (CHP) Selima Dogan, were expected to enter parliament. They will be the country's only Armenian parliamentarians.
The AKP in 2011 received more than 49pc of the vote, its highest result.
But if the initial results are backed by final tallies, this will make it the first time its domination of the Turkish political scene is no longer guaranteed.
The Turkish prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, said on Sunday that the AKP was the clear winner and vowed to take all necessary measures to prevent harm to Turkey's political stability.
"Everyone should see that the AKP is the winner and leader of these elections," Mr Davutoglu said. "No one should try to build a victory from an election they lost."
Mr Erdogan and the AKP had hoped it would get a two-thirds supermajority (367 seats) and then change the 1982 constitution to create an executive presidential system.