Turkey’s opposition alliance received a major boost on Wednesday in its fight to defeat Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in May’s elections when the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) announced it would not field a candidate, effectively throwing its support to the coalition.
The country is scheduled to hold parliamentary and presidential elections on May 14 in what is expected to be Erodgan’s toughest challenge to remain in power.
An opposition alliance of six parties has chosen Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the largest party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), as its candidate.
The HDP is not expected to become part of the alliance, but deciding not to present a candidate in the presidential election means the party’s supporters are more likely to vote for the opposition alliance's candidate.
“We will fulfill our historical responsibility. We declare that we won’t nominate anybody for the presidential polls,” Pervin Buldan, co-chairwoman of the HDP, told reporters, Hurriyet Daily News reported.
Aydin Sezer, an Ankara-based foreign policy analyst, told The Media Line he thinks 99% of HDP voters will back Kilicdaroglu, who is also Kurdish.
This is “a factor that could help him win the election,” Sezer told The Media Line.
He said he expects Selahattin Demirtaş, the HDP’s 2018 presidential candidate, who has been jailed over terrorism charges since 2016, also will make a statement soon in support of the opposition alliance.
“His influence on the party and the electorate is much more than [the] leaders,” according to Sezer.
Earlier this month, Demirtaş’ tweeted good luck to Kilicdaroglu.
Sayın Kılıçdaroğlu'na hayırlı olsun diyoruz. Kendisini HDP'ye de bekliyoruz. pic.twitter.com/UcKkJP5Oi1— Selahattin Demirtaş (@hdpdemirtas) March 6, 2023
The European Court of Human Rights said in 2020 that Demirtaş should be immediately released and that his imprisonment was for a “political purpose.”
Some commentators have referred to Kurdish voters as the kingmakers in Turkish elections for their ability to swing votes.
The HDP is the second-largest opposition party in parliament, with more than 10% of the seats.
If supporters of the HDP vote for Kilicdaroglu, then the opposition alliance could get well over 50% of the vote, according to some polls.
This strategy significantly helped the opposition win the 2019 Istanbul mayoral election, beating an Erdogan ally. That victory is considered Erdogan’s greatest loss since coming to power 20 years ago.
In the same local elections, HDP candidates who won mayoral races were not allowed to take up their posts.
The main opposition has made promises that would benefit the HDP if it won.
The Turkish government has accused the HDP of supporting terrorism and being connected to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has been designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
The HDP currently is facing a threat of closure over the terror accusations, which the movement denies.
The CHP implied it was open to cooperation after the leader of the second largest party in the alliance, the Good Party, temporarily split from the group at the beginning of March.
The separation sent shockwaves through the Turkish opposition, increasing fears that their chances of victory were severely diminished and dominating media coverage for two days until there was a reconciliation that ended up galvanizing supporters.
During the split, Kilicdaroglu stated that the coalition needed to enlarge.
Many took this to mean that he was interested in cooperating with the HDP, which would have given the opposition a fighting chance of winning, even without the Good Party.
On Monday, Kilicdaroglu visited the offices of the HDP, which has entered a coalition with another opposition party to run for parliamentary seats.
A presidential candidate must receive at least 50%-plus-one vote to win in the first electoral round, otherwise a second round is held.
Soner Cagaptay, a senior fellow with a focus on Turkey at the Washington Institute, told The Media Line that Erdogan’s chance of winning has been lowered.
“The opposition has never been this close to winning the presidential election in the first round of voting on May 14,” he stated.