Demirtas on Turkish elections: Principles on democracy first

Imprisoned former co-chair of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtaş put forth his perspectives for the upcoming general elections and the political situation in Turkey in an article published on T24.

As Turkey slowly approaches the most important elections in its history [in 2023 or possibly earlier], politics is beginning to stir. There is a number of reasons why the upcoming elections are so important. The first one is the [current] transition to a presidential government system which aims and actually forces change.

The administration run by the Justice and Development Party [AKP] is trying to institutionalise and establish a new authoritarian regime with the support of the remains of the old security regime. This new authoritarianism, based on nationalist and religious fundamentalist references hasn’t yet been able to establish itself because of social opposition.

However, if it wins in the next elections and succeeds in legitimising itself with popular support, the danger of its institutionalisation will become more of a reality. In that case Turkey will be dragged into an even gloomier adventure which will likely go on for decades.

On the other hand, if pro-democracy forces win, institutionalising democracy and solving 100-year-old problems of the Republic within a democratic system will be possible. I can think of no election in [Turkey’s] history that has brought with it so many threats but also opportunities before.

Will the state, undergoing a process of disintegration and collapse, enhance its oppressive character and try covering problems with religion and nationalism eventually to completely disintegrate in the medium term, or will a true confrontation with problems lead to a democratic republic?

The upcoming elections will be a historical one with an answer that will be delivered to this question.

Will the elections necessarily lead to only one of these options? Isn’t there another possibility? Well, there is.

This third possibility is ‘losing through winning’ because of unprincipled alliances being formed merely to win the elections. What I mean by this is the victory of a certain kind of politics which lacks vision, principle and program; a politics based solely on the objective of replacing AKP and Erdoğan with whomever possible. This will mean wasting the opportunity of winning democracy through an election; an opportunity which came by for the first time in a hundred years.

It’s evident now that AKP and Erdoğan have no intention, capability nor desire of navigating towards a democratic system. And does the opposition have such an intention and capability? When we consider all opposition parties we’re not able to say ‘yes’ so confidently. I believe I am justified in saying this. This is due to the fact that the opposition has not yet been able to make democracy a strategic objective; they still treat democratisation with a tactical approach.

As far as I can see, the HDP [the People’s Democratic Party] is getting ready to announce a policy document in order to counter this approach and to base the political discussion on the axis of democratisation. It’s essential to follow closely this political move. It will be beneficial for Turkey’s future if all political parties, ruling or opposing, seriously take into consideration the principles HDP will underline. HDP is serious about democratisation; it’s not a bluff or a tactical move. Moreover, HDP will not ever take seriously those who will not take into consideration and discuss its principles of democracy.

It’s not necessary to wait for the election day to see what this means. Let me say it: Those who will not take HDP seriously and fail to turn the question of democracy into a strategic objective and program are doomed to fail. We will continue to struggle and resist for democracy and freedom no matter what, while we naturally can’t know what others will do.

Finally let me add this: The elections will not be a magic wand which will solve all our problems; it’ll only provide a substantial basis for a solution. This basis is democracy. If we’ll not be able to establish democracy, this means we’ll not be able to solve our problems.

The main issue is what will be done following the elections. The opposition ought to encourage the society at this point. In other words, it ought to reassure through a political program that the elected administration will not take over state mechanisms to deny and oppress others. If need be, a protocol of principles ought to be signed in public. Furthermore, the administrative power must never again rest on a single political movement or person.

100-year old mistakes shouldn’t be repeated as the republic and the state are restored. All social segments, including Kurds, Alevis, conservatives, socialists, Kemalists, democratic nationalists ought to find a way to stand and act together on the grounds of democracy. This is the only path to making democratic institutions permanent.

First, principles, then alliances based on principles.

All personal career concerns and partisan pragmatism must be cast aside and everyone ought to head towards a collective understanding and spend efforts for a collective governance and reconstruction. We still believe that this is achievable and continue to work for it.

With hope.