Turkey’s Kurds Choose the AK Party over HDP Separatism

The AK Party increased its votes in the eastern region, which shows that stiff counterterrorism measures against the PKK have damaged the PKK’s political wing, the HDP.

Turkey s Kurds Choose the AK Party over HDP Separatism
AK Party supporters celebrating the election results, March 31, 2019. Anadolu Agency

Turkey had one of its most significant local elections yesterday. The agenda of the elections was more about national or even international issues rather than local matters. According to the unofficial election results, the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has once again come first in the elections, as it has done in every single election since 2002. Nevertheless, the party, while preserving its votes in the national scale, seems to have lost the capital Ankara while Istanbul results are so close that I am sure there will be some recounting. As this column mostly focuses on the Kurdish question, my take on the elections will be about the cities where Turkey’s Kurds live densely.

With respect to the Kurdish question, and hence, AK Party - HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party) competition in the eastern and southeastern cities, the results are quite promising - if not an overwhelming glory, for the AK Party. For one thing, AK Party has retained all cities under its rule except for Erzincan, where it lost to the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), not the HDP. Elazığ, Erzurum, Malatya, Muş, Bingöl, Gaziantep, Kilis, Şanlıurfa, Adıyaman, all were retained by AK Party, most of them with quite big margins.

AK Party has not lost a single city to the HDP while gaining Ağrı, Bitlis, and Şırnak back from the HDP. This is a straightforward win.

AK Party has not lost a single city to the HDP while gaining Ağrı, Bitlis, and Şırnak back from the HDP. This is a straightforward win for AK Party vis-a-vis the HDP given that the HDP has so far never lost a city municipality where it was in power. What makes it more impressive is that it is not a small shift of votes that enabled the AK Party to win in those cities. It was quite a big shift. The AK Party, according to unofficial results, received 56% of the votes in Ağrı where it only got 38% in 2014. It increased its votes from 40 to 44, and, most dramatically in Şırnak from 17 to 62 percent. The HDP, on the other hand, lost its vote share in most of places even where it usually came first. The HDP also lost Tunceli to the Turkey Communist Party (TKP) while coming first in Kars where the MHP was holding the municipality.

The AK Party won multiple towns that were under HDP control since 2014. Most striking examples are from Hakkari and Şırnak where the HDP used to come first with big margins.

Apart from these cities, the AK Party also won multiple towns that were under HDP control (under the BDP banner) since 2014. Most striking examples are from Hakkari and Şırnak where the HDP used to come first with big margins. While the AK Party seems to have won Derecik, Şemdinli and Çukurca in Hakkari, it also obtained Uludere and Beytüşşebap in Şırnak, all from the HDP. Overall, the AK Party has won four districts out of seven in Şırnak and three out of five in Hakkari. Diyarbakır, on the other hand, did not let the AK Party to win a victory in the city other than Çermik and Hani districts. Nevertheless, in pretty much all the cities of the region, even in places where the HDP came first, the AK Party has increased the number of municipal districts it won.

These results, overall, suggest that AK Party is the winner in Turkey’s eastern cities. The HDP, on the other hand, lost many municipalities it had won in 2014. While the party had gained 10 cities and 67 districts in 2014, the numbers respectively fell to 8 lost its vote share in most of the places and 50 districts in 2019. Hence, it lost 2 cities and 17 towns in the region, almost entirely to the AK Party. These results show that neither the AK Party’s electoral alliance with the nationalist MHP nor the trustee appointments resulted in a decrease in the party’s votes in the region. Quite the opposite, the AK Party increased its votes in the region and this tells us that the AK Party’s stiff counterterrorism measures against the PKK have also damaged the PKK’s political wing, the HDP.

Hüseyin Alptekin
Hüseyin Alptekin is Assistant Professor at Istanbul Şehir University and researcher at SETA. He received his PhD degree from the University of Texas at Austin in 2014. Among his academic interests are comparative political institutions, ethnic politics, nationalism, politics of Turkey, and the Middle East. His research has been published, among others, in Ethnic and Racial Studies, Mediterranean Politics, Nationalism and Ethnic Politics, Afro Eurasian Studies, Insight Turkey, and Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Political Thought.