Demirtas’ candidacy is seen as a hope for the peaceful resolution of Turkey’s Kurdish question. Photo courtesy of Selahettin Demirtas
By Berna Ozgencil
MERSIN, Turkey – Selahattin Demirtas, co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) who was nominated to run in next month’s presidential poll in Turkey, has vowed to ensure democracy, freedom and peace if elected.
The August 10 poll will be a race against the Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the current prime minister who is making a presidential bid. He is the candidate and leader of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Demirtas’ other challenger is the former Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) secretary-general, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu.
Demirtas, one of the most prominent names of the Kurdish political movement in Turkey and at 41 the youngest candidate in the race, remarked that his candidacy enabled the oppressed in society to have their voices heard for the first time. “The Turkish society should appraise this opportunity well,” he said.
Calling attention to the much greater funds available to his two challengers in their presidential bids, Demirtas said: “We will draw our strength from the people and compete on the basis of our principles, which are more legitimate than theirs.”
He stressed that his party stood for freedom, democracy, peace, fraternity and equality -- goals for which it had been fighting for years.
Youth groups defending human rights and freedoms in Turkey also are launching a campaign to support the HDP candidate. They will be debating questions like, “Why Demirtas, what kind of president do we want, and what can we do to support him?”
Demirtas’ candidacy is also seen as a hope for the peaceful resolution of Turkey’s Kurdish question. Ankara and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party guerrilla movement began a stalled peace process more than a year ago, with PKK accusations that the government has so far failed to make progress by stalling on taking concrete steps.
Some observers believe that the HDP co-chair's election bid is a challenge to Erdogan, who has exhausted his three four-year terms as prime minister and now has his eye on the presidency.
The HDP candidate is expected to eat into Erdogan’s Kurdish vote for Cankaya, as well the votes of Alevis, leftists and several marginalized and socially-excluded groups. The HDP has some 6.5 percent of votes, and is expected to receive the votes of some CHP circles not supporting their party’s nominated candidate.
Demirtas is also the hope of groups supporting victims of unanswered acts committed by the Turkish government or military, including a December 2011 air raid on the village of Roboski, a violent crackdown on last year’s Gezi Park protests and the Soma mine disaster in May.
The first round of the presidential vote on August 10 will be followed by the second round four days later, when the HDP votes will be decisive, should Erdogan or Ihsanoglu fail to secure 51 percent in the first go.
Demirtas, who was co-chair of the Peace and Democracy Party ( BDP) since 2010, moved to the HDP in June, along with many other MPs, in solidarity against racist attacks targeting its members since the foundation of the party.
Demirtas is a graduate in law from Ankara University. He worked as a self-employed lawyer and was the chairperson of the Diyarbakır branch of the Human Rights Association (IHD) in 2006.