Turkey lifts ban on some Kurdish candidates, results remain to be seen
Turkey’s High Election Board on Monday the 18th banned 12 Kurdish politicians from running for the national election set in June. The 12 politicians are among the dozens of independent candidates running which the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) has backed. The decision to back independent candidates is to overcome the 10-percent threshold for political parties to enter the 550-seat parliament.
Today, however, the high pressure from the people as well as politicians forced the election commission to reverse the decision, and the banning of seven candidates has been reversed.
The 10-percent threshold has created huge barrier between Turkey and its democratization. Twice as high as the European average, the 10-percent election threshold wastes millions of votes each election since the dozens of the smaller parties, though large enough in their respective territories with millions of votes, are not large enough nationally to gain the 10 percent to enter the parliament. The 10-percent threshold was adopted in 1982 after a coup-Constitution was installed, arguing that the lack of threshold was the cause for instability in Turkey. Soli Ozel, a prominent columnist with the Turkish daily Haberturk, argues that the threshold was in fact more to do with keeping the Kurdish parties out of Parliament; and that is only apparent because it is nearly impossible for the Kurds to curb the 10-percent threshold, let alone gaining it. European Union has long criticized Turkey for its lagging on respecting human rights, democracy, and rule of law, which also includes the 10-percent threshold that is included in the 1982 coup d’état Constitution.
“Kurds are trying to hold on to the Parliament despite the 10 per cent barrier, despite all anti-democratic efforts, despite the doors being slammed on them,” Sabahat Tuncel, who is one of the 12 candidates, told Haberturk television in Istanbul. Among the 12 candidates had also included Leyla Zana, who is also among the seven candidates whose ban has been reversed.
Leyla Zana was the first Kurdish women to win a seat in Turkey’s Parliament in 1991. While taking her oath in the Parliament, in her last sentence she said “I take this oath for the brotherhood between the Turkish people and the Kurdish people” in Kurdish, which was a banned language at the time, and was imprisoned for 10 years for it. Nominated for Noble Peace Prize in 1995, as well as the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize, European Parliament strongly condemned Turkey’s decision; “We, as Member of the European Parliament, strongly condemn this court decision which is a major set back for the democracy process in Turkey”.
Finally it seemed that the long-standing, often bloody, Kurdish question was on its path to take political solution rather than military. Conflicts between the Turkish security forces and Kurdistan’s Worker’s Party, or PKK, who took arms in 1980s to fight for basic human rights for the Kurdish people such as the right to speak in their language, estimated to have cost the lives of over 40,000 of mostly Kurds. The Kurds, ethnically different than the majority Turks, makes up to 20 percent of the Turkish population.
However, the barring decision could end the path of political solution. BDP has warned that the party would consider whether to withdraw from the election. “Whether we withdraw or not, these elections and the Parliament formed will not be legitimate,” said BDP co-chairman Selahattin Demirtas on April 20th.
BDP, and the Kurds, are not the only party that have criticized decision. Mehmet Ali Shahin, president of Turkey’s Parliament and a member of the AK Party, which is the current ruling party, has asked the election commission to reconsider its decision. “All problems we have could be solved in Parliament. The decision may be right looking at the laws but for the democratic process this decision should be reviewed”.
Immediately after the decision, the Kurdish people took to the streets of several cities, including Istanbul, to protest. One Kurdish person has been shot dead by the police. Selahattin Demirtas was invited by President Abdullah Gul to try to defuse the high tension, but: “Today in Bismil police opened fire on protesters and one person was killed. Because of this incident I will not go to the presidential palace, I will tell President Gul by telephone about the brutality here,” Demirtas to CNN Turk.
It is remain to be seen if BDP will continue to consider its boycott or not since some of the candidates are still barred from participating in the election. It is a welcoming decision nonetheless and “the result is a benefit to democracy but the price has been heavy” said a Kurdish legislator, Sirri Sakik, who also said that “the decision has been tainted with blood”.
Another Kurdish legislator, Aysel Tugluk, said “a mistake has been undone. This correction will naturally ease off the tension in the public. If this correction had not been made, more violence was sure to follow, and legitimacy of the election would be hindered”.