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GTE Question of the Month, April 2015


How will Turkey’s parliamentary elections on 7 June affect the dynamics of the Kurdish peace process?

Mesut Yegen

The terms of the peace process are now more or less settled. The Öcalan-authored 10 articles for negotiation and the Newroz message, announced on 28 February and 21 March respectively, displayed that the target of the peace process is to ensure the ceasing of the PKK’s armed struggle against Turkey in return for the deepening of Turkish democracy—which involves, among other things, decentralization in administration and the legalization of the PKK. This means that the PKK will cease its armed struggle only if certain constitutional amendments are made.
The elections on 7 June are important in this respect, as they will determine whether there will be at least 367 deputies to support the constitutional amendments necessary for the salvation of the peace process. The recent opinion polls indicate that there are only two possible scenarios in this respect at the moment: the good and the bad. The good scenario would be that the HDP passes the electoral threshold and gains more than 50 seats while the AK Party gains around 320 seats, and that in the end the two parties agree to introduce the necessary constitutional amendments. In this scenario, the peace process may easily be concluded. The bad scenario would be that the AK Party gets more than 367 seats due to the HDP’s failure to pass the election threshold. In this case, the AK Party might become less willing to introduce the necessary constitutional amendments, or else it might introduce the constitutional amendments but not in a way that satisfies the PKK side. In this case, the peace process may either stop or get stuck.
However, it is important to note that while the fate of the peace process seemed until very recently to be almost entirely dependent upon the results of the prospective elections, it has appeared in the last few days that the future of the process is likely to be influenced by a brand new factor: the crack between Erdoğan and the AK Party government. While Erdoğan recently expressed his discontent with the Öcalan-authored framework for negotiation and with the establishment of a “third eye” for monitoring the process, the government spokesman Bulent Arınç stated that the government is determined to maintain the peace process within this framework and with the help of a monitoring third eye. This indicates that the future of the peace process may be shaped by the crack in question before it is shaped by the elections in June.

(Mesut Yegen is Faculty member, Department of Sociology, Istanbul Sehir University)

Dimitar Bechev

The forthcoming elections are, beyond doubt, a critical step in the ongoing efforts to resolve Turkey’s Kurdish issue. Much depends on how well the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) does. If it overcomes the 10% threshold the party will have sufficient leverage to extract concessions from the AKP, which will need its support. In case of failure, HDP might be tempted to call for civil disobedience in the southeastern provinces, prompting a heavy-handed response by the forces of order, as in the autumn of 2014. Escalating tensions could end up derailing the peace process altogether. On AKP’s side, President Erdoğan and his close associates such as Deputy PM Yalçın Akdoğan have recently taken a tough line against HDP’s demands for an independent monitoring committee in order to win nationalist votes. That is an equally risky tactic, rightfully criticized by the backers of PM Davutoğlu. Chances are that there will be a tense, nerve-wrecking contest in the southeast in the run-up to 7 June, as happened back in 2011 when violence broke out on several occasions. In effect, the peace process is put on hold to be restarted only after the elections – especially if Erdoğan reaches back to the HDP leaders.

(Dimitar Bechev is Visiting senior fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE))

Galip Dalay

Once Turkey is done with the upcoming general elections on 7 June, it will have an election-free four years, in the absence of a referendum on a change of political system. Conventional wisdom suggests that this timeframe provides the government with a precious long time to take decisive steps in the Kurdish peace process. Yet the general political climate of the country, uncertainty about the political system, and an internal redesigning of the governing AK Party suggests that this process might not be as smooth as expected. The process is likely to face challenges related to these factors and therefore experience delays and temporary setbacks. Nevertheless, it is unlikely to fail due to structural factors and the strategic significance of the process for both sides.
One of the troubles of the post-election period is that the debate on changing the political system and internally reconfiguring the AK Party will be occurring at a time when the peace process is entering a critical phase that requires the undertaking of critical legal and political steps and committed political leadership on both sides. At this stage, the first question that needs to be asked is what role the process plays in regard to the other two important post-election period issues: namely, the adoption of a new constitution and the changing of the political system. Put another way, will debates on these topics have any impact on the peace process? Here, political actors’ views on the place of the process in these broader debates become significant. And here is also where we witness a growing divergence between the president and the government.
President Erdoğan appears to be establishing an unbreakable link between the final settlement of the Kurdish issue, the adoption of a new constitution and the changing of the political system from parliamentary to presidential. He disapproves of the detachment of these three elements from each other. In contrast, the government is also conscious of the fact that the settlement of the Kurdish issue requires the adoption of a new constitution, yet it does not seem to regard the changing of the political system as an essential element in this process. Such divergent views on the place of the peace process in debates on the adoption of a new constitution and the introduction of a new political system might prove inimical to the further advancement of the process.
As demonstrated by the evolution of the process itself as well as examples the world over, a united, determined and committed leadership is crucial for the advancement of any peace process, especially at a juncture in which significant legal and political steps need to be taken. Yet in the post-election period, Turkey is likely to have a dual source of executive authority divided between the prime ministry and presidency, at least in the upcoming 1-2 years. In the absence of unity of purpose and perspective on the method, means, timing and sequence of the process, such a divided executive authority will bode ill for the process, as amply illustrated by the divergent stance recently taken by Erdoğan and the government on the same specific steps, for instance the third eye monitoring committee which is planned to take a place in the process. Erdoğan’s public disapproval of these steps has culminated in their being temporarily put on hold.
On the Kurdish side, putting aside developments in the broader region and particularly in Syria, the pro-Kurdish HDP’s election results will bear significant impact on the process. Currently, the HDP’s anticipated election performance seems to fluctuate around the 10% election threshold. If it passes the threshold, it will have even more motivation to pursue the successful completion of the process and to transform itself from being a pro-Kurdish party into a left-wing political party with Turkey-wide appeal. Yet if it remains below the threshold, pursuing further advancement of the process might not be its post-election priority. Instead, it is likely to have an internal debate on its future political trajectory and, accordingly, reevaluate its stance on the process. This in return may cause distraction, delays and setbacks in the process.
Ultimately, the above-mentioned factors may cause delays and temporary setbacks in the process, but are unlikely to terminate it. There are still ample structural factors on both sides that necessitate the continuation of the process. Neither the Kurdish Movement nor the government approaches the process as conjectural or event-driven; rather, they are acting strategically. Both parties can ill afford hostilities to break out again. The Kurdish Movement’s quest to become a legitimate regional force, consolidate its gains in Syrian Kurdistan, establish meaningful relations with the West and regional powers, fill the vacuum on the left side of the political spectrum in Turkey, and be taken off of the terror lists of Western countries all require it to settle the Kurdish issue politically in Turkey and terminate its armed activities against Turkey.
On the other hand, termination of the peace process would further complicate Turkey’s regional policy, especially its policy on Syria. It would leave Turkey without any significant narrative of success both internally and internationally and render the country economically fragile and ungovernable, given that street mobilization is already causing concerns among political circles in Ankara. However, the factors that favour the advancement of the process are still more powerful than the ones that might derail it. The process in the post-election period appears to be experiencing some delays and setbacks due to Turkey’s internal political agenda, especially the debate on the political system and the intra-AK Party redesigning. But the process seems to be solid enough to eventually weather these storms.

(Galip Dalay is Research Director, Al Sharq Forum & Senior Associate Fellow on Turkey and Kurdish Affairs, Al Jazeera Center for Studies)