Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 91

The pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) has formed a new political party in preparation for its likely closure by the Turkish Constitutional Court later this year.

On May 9, 42 Kurdish politicians with links to the DTP formally applied to the Turkish Interior Ministry to form the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) (CNNTurk, May 9).

On November 16, 2007, Public Prosecutor Abdurrahamn Yalcinkaya applied to the Constitutional Court for the DTP’s closure on the grounds that it had become a “center of activities aimed at damaging the independence of the state and the indivisible integrity of its territory and nation” (see EDM, November 19, 2007).

The DTP’s opponents have long claimed that it supports the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), noting that the party’s leaders consistently refuse to characterize the PKK as a terrorist organization. Although no convincing evidence has been produced to suggest that the DTP is actively controlled by the PKK, there is no doubt that many of its leading members are at least very sympathetic to the organization. It is also likely that most PKK supporters in Turkey vote for the DTP in elections.

The DTP is currently believed to enjoy the support of around 4.5 percent of the total electorate (Milliyet, May 10). In the July 22, 2007, general election, 20 members of the DTP successfully ran for parliament as independents in order to circumvent the 10 percent national threshold for representation applied to political parties. In his indictment, Yalcinkaya called for 221 members of the DTP, including eight current members of parliament, to be banned for five years from being members of a political party.

It is currently unclear when the Constitutional Court will rule on the DTP’s case. On May 12 the Constitutional Court granted the DTP an additional month to present its main defense, effectively giving the party until June 12 (Anadolu Ajansi, May 12). The court is also expected to listen to Yalcinkaya. It will then consider the evidence, a process that could take several months, which means that it will not deliver its verdict until fall at the earliest. Under Turkish law, at least seven members of the 11-member court must vote in favor of the prosecution in order for a political party to be outlawed. Few doubt that the court will uphold Yalcinkaya’s application and that the DTP will become the latest in a series of pro-Kurdish parties to be closed down.

The DTP case is being closely followed by Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development (AKP), partly because the Constitutional Court is also currently hearing a case for the AKP’s own closure (see EDM, April 1) and partly because of the possible impact of the banning of the DTP on the local elections of March 2009.

The DTP currently controls 54 municipalities in the predominantly Kurdish southeastern Turkey. In the July 2007 election, however, the AKP performed better than any other party in southeastern Turkey. Even though the Kurds are probably the most conservative segment of the Turkish population, the DTP is highly secularist and most of its leaders come from a leftist background. The assumption is that many Kurds supported the AKP in the July 2007 election, because they regarded it as having an Islamic identity. As early as fall 2007, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told AKP officials leaders that their next target would be to wrest control of the municipalities in southeast Turkey from the DTP.

Traditionally, whenever a Turkish political party has been closed, its former members have simply established a new one. But this is an expensive, time-consuming and disruptive process; not least because all political parties have to be officially registered in each of Turkey’s 81 provinces in order to compete in nationwide elections, which is why the DTP has founded the BDP so long in advance of the March 2009 local elections.

Most of the mayors of the 54 municipalities currently controlled by the DTP, however, were among the 221 DTP members whom Yalcinkaya asked the Constitutional Court to ban from membership of any political party for five years. As a result, if the Constitutional Court upholds Yalcinkaya’s indictment later this year, the DTP will be forced to run in the March 2009 local elections not only as a new party but probably with a new list of candidates unfamiliar to the voters. The alternative would be for the incumbent DTP mayors to run as independents, but this would make it difficult for them to use the local party network and would almost certainly result in losing votes. A significant proportion of the electorate in southeastern Turkey is illiterate or semiliterate and relies on identifying a party’s logo on the ballot in order to know which candidate to vote for. Independents do not have a logo, a fact that favored the AKP in southeastern Turkey in the July 2007 general election and would do so again if the BDP ran independent candidates in March 2009.