Kurdish problem casts shadow over Turkish elections

Leyla Zana.jpg

Turkey's top court has decided to bar 12 candidates, including seven Kurds, one of whom is Sakharov Prize winner Leyla Zana, from running in June's general elections. The decision sparked violent protests and led the country's leading Kurdish political party to threaten to boycott the poll. The European Commission deplored the regression of democratic standards in Turkey.

The authorities' decision to bar candidates backed by the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) from national elections to be held on 12 June has sparked protests in the country and clashes occurred yesterday (19 April) between Kurds and the police.

Among the twelve barred is Leyla Zana, a Kurdish politician who was imprisoned for 10 years for speaking her native language in the Turkish parliament. She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995 and was awarded the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize in 1995, which she collected only after her release in 2004.

TV footage showed violence in the eastern Kurdish city of Van. Eyewitnesses said that police used water cannons and tear gas to disperse hundreds of protesters in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir. Hundreds of Kurds also held a protest in Istanbul.

The Supreme Election Board said it had annulled the candidacy of the 12 election candidates because they had previously been convicted, mainly for political activism.

Erdo?an: 'The candidates barred represent the junta'

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an lashed out at three political parties – the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), the opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) – for nominating candidates who, in his words, represented the pro-coup junta and not the nation itself.

Reportedly, the AKP government, which has Islamist roots, often accuses the opposition of conspiracy and attempts to trigger a military coup. Many officers and journalists are detained, often without trial, under the so-called Ergenekon and Sledgehammer affairs.

Kemal K?l?çdaro?lu, leader of the main opposition party, CHP, called for an emergency session of the Turkish parliament. He also renewed his call for the 10% vote threshold for parties to win seats in the assembly to be lowered.

The banned politicians were running as independent candidates to circumvent the 10% threshold. The BDP was planning to enter all its 61 candidates as independents to bypass indeed the election threshold.

The decision to bar the twelve candidacies is final, said the head of Turkey's highest court Hasan Gerçeker, quoted by the Turkish press.

The top court head added that it would be impossible in legal terms for new candidates to apply to fill the 12 slots, because they were running as independent candidates.

According to an OSCE report, the 10% national threshold in Turkey's electoral system virtually eliminates any chance of regional or minority parties entering the Turkish Grand National Assembly and distorts the main purpose of a proportional system.

A boycott by BDP would raise the probability of the ruling party led by Erdo?an winning a two-thirds majority in parliament at the elections, allowing it to pass legislation – including constitutional amendments – unopposed, Inan Demir, chief economist at Istanbul-based Finansbank AS, is quoted by Bloomberg as saying.

The European Commission said it was "very concerned" about the authorities' decision to block a number of BDP candidates from running in the general elections.

"In any case, it seems that after some initial actions the democratic opening launched by the government in late 2009 has come to a de-facto standstill. It is of utmost importance that the new government injects new life into the process after the elections," Natasha Butler, spokesperson for Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle, told EURACTIV.

"The southeast of Turkey needs peace, democracy and stability as well as economic, social and cultural development. The Commission continues to insist that the Kurdish issue needs to be addressed through dialogue and within the framework of Turkey's democratic institutions after decades of violence. The success of this initiative requires the participation and support of all political parties and all segments of society," Butler added.

The Kurds are 'a nation without a country'. The so-called CIA 'factbook' states that 18% of Turkey’s 77 million people are Kurdish.

According to the Turkish press, the Kurdish conflict in Turkey has cost the lives of about 40,000 people since 1984, resulted in more than 17,000 unsolved murders, wasted billions of dollars in military expenditure and countless billions more in missed opportunities. 

In 2009, the Turkish government made a move to improve the status of the country's largest minority, allowing political campaigns to occur in the Kurdish language, providing opportunities for Kurds to learn their mother tongue, allowing the Kurdish language to be spoken in prisons, restoring the former names of thousands of Kurdish towns and villages, and ensuring Kurdish language and literature are taught in two universities - Mardin Artuklu and Diyarbakir Dicle.

  • 12 June: General elections to be held in Turkey.

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