Crucial days for the Kurdish peace process

Would President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s seemingly unlimited ambitions in Turkish politics be given a boost, or would his increasingly autocratic tendencies suffer at least a temporary setback?

This was the question that dominated the headlines in the days leading to last Sunday’s general election. But for the future of the region, more important than Erdogan’s ambitions or the fate of AKP’s (Justice and Development Party) single party rule is the status of the peace process with the Kurds, until recently one of Erdogan’s flagships.

The hope is that Erdogan and the AKP recall what the price is for letting the peace process derail and the current ceasefire collapse

Manuel Almeida

The two things are obviously related. The pro-Kurdish HDP (People’s Democracy Party) share of the vote above the 10 percent threshold means a Kurdish party will be represented in parliament for the first time in the history of the Turkish Republic, with 79 or 80 seats. This result blocks Erdogan’s ambition to see the AKP get two thirds of parliamentary seats, which would allow him to push for the constitutional changes to turn the largely ceremonial presidential post into an executive one.

What now?

According to the constitution, without even a simple parliamentary majority the AKP now has 45 days to find a partner for a ruling coalition, gather support to form a minority government, or face a new election round within three months.

At this point, various coalition options involving the AKP are on the table, each with different consequences for the peace process with the Kurds. An alliance with the CHP (Republican People’s Party), Turkey’s main opposition party, would be good news for the peace process since the CHP has renewed its support for it.

Not so good news would be a coalition with the right-wing nationalists of MHP (National Movement Party). Given MHP’s highly suspicious position toward the peace process, this coalition could mean a government far less committed to the peace negotiations.

Yet the peace process and the current ceasefire between the Turkish army and the PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party) guerrillas could derail even in the case of an AKP minority government, perhaps involving the permanent departure of current Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu who resigned on Tuesday.

Despite the HDP’s electoral success, which could turn the party into a vehicle for many Kurds to increasingly abandon their armed struggle, the rough road to these elections took a heavy toll on the peace negotiations. Seeing the threat from HDP’s ambitions, this year Erdogan and some other AKP figures reduced their commitment to the peace process’s road map, while increasingly stepping up provocative rhetoric and taking decisions that threatened the process.

Putting plans on hold

As a consequence, the PKK’s plans to renounce its armed struggle were put on hold. A congress called by imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan to declare an end to the armed struggle was cancelled after Erdogan declared in March “there is no Kurdish question in Turkey.”

The Turkish president has achieved more than any other Turkish leader to address the Kurdish issue. Yet his increasingly divisive posture and the AKP’s Syria policy have risked undoing that achievement. In particular, the lack of support to Syria’s Kurds in their fight against ISIS in Kobane across the border and the decision not to allow local Kurdish fighters to cross it to join the fight provoked riots in various Kurdish cities and has had quite a negative impact.

These tensions were reflected on the voting pattern. Despite the relative success Selahattin Demirtas of the pro-Kurdish HDP has had in its appeal to non-Kurdish women, secular and center-left voters, the party has drawn much of its strength from the support of the Kurds. Seeing how the peace negotiations and the AKP promises about devolution of Kurdish cultural and language rights were affected by other political considerations within the AKP, many Kurds who previously voted for the ruling party shifted to HDP.

Once the electoral storm abates, there could be a more positive atmosphere between the AKP and the HDP. Despite Demirtas denials that the pro-Kurdish party could consider a coalition with the AKP and an electoral campaign quite critical of the ruling party, an AKP-HDP coalition would of course be excellent news for the Kurdish issue.

Unlikely scenario

That, however, is an unlikely scenario and a lot depends on Erdogan. The president himself called on all parties to look “healthily and realistically” to the election results. But much needs to be done by AKP high cadres to mend the peace negotiations and there are no guarantees that there’s the political will to do it.

The hope is that Erdogan and the AKP recall what the price is for letting the peace process derail and the current ceasefire collapse. Turkey would face the resumption of conflict within its borders, the heightening of ethnic tensions, a slump of investors’ confidence, and the revival of separatist Kurdish ambitions. This would be terrible news for the region in need of a stable and strong Turkey that respects diversity. The beneficiaries would be the ISIS radicals and the vicious regime of Bashar al-Assad, who would see the Turkish government’s pressure to weaken him ease.

This prospect and the memories of a conflict that dates back to 1984 should be sufficient to prevent it.

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Manuel Almeida is a writer, researcher and consultant on the Middle East. He holds a PhD in International Relations from the London of Economics and Political Science and was an editor at Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper. He can be reached on @_ManuelAlmeida on Twitter.

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:46 - GMT 06:46
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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