Turkish Opposition Party Calls Nov. 1 Elections ‘Illegitimate,’ Calls for New Election

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The People’s Democratic Party (HDP), a Turkish left-wing minority party allied with the Kurdish population, has demanded the nation’s Supreme Election Board cancel the results of the November 1 election that locked President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) into the majority position.

HDP leaders allege that the November 1 election was not a “free and equal election” due to widespread violence and threats which prevented many of their candidates from organizing publicity events. In particular, the HDP is hoping the Supreme Election Board (YSK) will overturn the election results due to fears that Kurdish and Kurd-friendly voters would be under attack should they assemble in public. Turkey has suffered two major terrorist attacks in 2015 – the July bombing in the border town of Suruç and the twin suicide bombing in Ankara in October – both of which have targeted assemblies of Turkish Kurds. The Suruç bombing targeted a group of young Kurds seeking to travel to Kobani, Syria to help rebuild the embattled town after a temporary ISIS occupation; the Ankara attack targeted a pro-Kurd peace rally.

“We were not able to lead an election campaign. We tried to protect our people against attacks,” HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş told reporters on Election Day, noting that the deliberate targeting of Kurdish gatherings had made HDP leaders uncomfortable with creating more targets for terrorists by congregating their voters.

The HDP has also been specifically targeted. In September, Demirtaş alleged that he had received more than 400 reports nationwide of attacks on HDP members and headquarters in just two days that month. The HDP ultimately canceled public rallies and forced candidates to campaign door-to-door to prevent more violence.

The official HDP complaint deliberately blames Erdogan’s government for this situation. It also argues that government crackdowns on the media hampered the electoral process:

A campaign against our party was conducted through the hands of the president and the interim government, which were not been a party in the elections; public resources were unlimitedly used to this aim; press organs were placed under a disciplinary order in a way that could only be seen before during coup eras; voters were scared and terrorized and prevented from going to vote; and through hundreds of attacks against our party buildings, our party was put in a situation where it could not hold rallies or campaign.

It notes with some optimism that government officials “tried to manipulate and influence provincial and district ballot box committees,” but ultimately failed thanks to YSK intervention.

On October 28, three days before the election, police stormed the offices of media conglomerate Kozi-Ipek, known to have ties to controversial cleric Fethullah Gulen, an arch-enemy of the Erdogan government. The government managed to shut down two television broadcasts and force two newspapers to cancel their planned publications for the day. The HDP immediately condemned the takeover of the media company, with co-chair Demirtaş describing the actions of the government as “like a mafia, like an illegal organization… right in the public eye, during a live broadcast.” Aside from these remarks, there is little evidence of a formal connection between the HDP and supporters of Gulen, though Erdogan has accused the two groups of colluding in the past.

The AKP, which had lost its complete majority in June, forcing the November election, regained its foothold on Parliament with 50 percent of the vote. The HDP, which had received 12 percent of the vote in July, guaranteeing it representation in Parliament, dropped to 10.4 percent. The other two major parties, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and Republican People’s Party (CHP), did not receive significantly different vote numbers than in June.

It appears highly unlikely that the YSK will agree to dissolving the Parliament and rescheduling elections, as the members of Parliament elected are scheduled to take their oaths of office today. The assembly has already chosen its temporary speaker, CHP member Deniz Baykal, who will serve until Parliament elects a permanent speaker on November 22.