The Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) entered into a unilateral ceasefire prior to Turkey’s elections on June 24. Though Turkish armed forces repeatedly attacked the PKK headquarters in the Qandil Mountains of northern Iraq, the PKK refused to take the bait. It understood that renewed conflict would be used by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to rally his nationalist base and justify an even more intense crackdown.
Kurds in Turkey preferred to show their power at the ballot box. They hoped to deprive Mr. Erdogan of a majority in the election for president, thereby forcing a second round. Furthermore, the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) would pass a critical threshold and be seated in parliament if it gained more than 10 percent of the popular vote.
The election was no surprise. Mr. Erdogan won the presidency with 52 percent, while the HDP’s charismatic presidential candidate, Selahattin Demirtas, received less than 9 percent. Though conditions were stacked against the HDP, it still got 12 percent. In a free and fair elections, the HDP would have dome much better.
Mr. Demirtas conducted his campaign from jail, imprisoned on trumped-up terrorism charges. He communicated with voters via his lawyers and social media.
Turkey’s state-controlled media gave Mr. Erdogan 181 hours of coverage during the six weeks prior to elections. Mr. Demirtas received less than one hour.
The government declared a state of emergency, which prevented campaign rallies. Police checked identification cards at polling stations. The presence of armed pro-government paramilitary groups intimidated Kurdish voters. The heavy security presence deterred Kurdish voters.
International election monitors were obstructed from Kurdish areas. More than 300,000 ballots in the mostly Kurdish southeast were invalidated.
Kurdish voters also faced logistical challenges. Ballot boxes were relocated from Kurdish communities, forcing Kurds to travel up to 20 miles from their homes. Hundreds of thousands of Kurdish voters were displaced and ineligible to vote because their homes were destroyed by the Turkish military and they could not register at an address.
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