Turkey's Kurdish party vows to be 'sultan' Erdogan's nightmare

AFP , Tuesday 21 Apr 2015

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Photo: Reuters)

Turkey's main Kurdish party on Tuesday launched their manifesto for June 7 legislative polls, saying it would be a "sultan's nightmare" for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

"This manifesto will be the sultan's nightmare but a dream for all the people of Turkey," Figen Yuksekdag, co-chair of the the People's Democratic Party (HDP), told party supporters, as she announced the party manifesto with co-leader Selahattin Demirtas.

Erdogan, who has dominated Turkey for over a decade, first as premier and now as president, is commonly referred to as the "Sultan" after the country's former Ottoman rulers which he admires.

The HDP is only ranked in fourth place in the polls, but will play a key role in an election where the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is aiming for a big enough majority to be able to push through constitutional changes giving the president full executive powers.

The HDP hopes to clear the controversial 10 percent barrier for full representation in the 550-seat parliament. If that happens, then the AKP may find it hard to reach two-thirds of the seats it needs to be able to force through changes to the constitution.

"There will never be a presidential system in our constitution," Yuksekdag said. "We did not change our minds, friends, and we will never do so."

Seeking to draw a distinction with the often dry two rival opposition parties, the party's election material is emblazoned with bright colours and the jaunty slogan "We are going to the Meclis (parliament)".

Uniquely among Turkey's parties, it has has put women's, worker and gay rights at the centre of its election campaign. Half of all its candidates are women, and it has male and female co-leaders.

The party's male co-chair Selahattin Demirtas, who greeted the audience in the long-suppressed Kurdish language, called for a "new beginning".

"We can build a brand-new Turkey only through a radical transformation," he said.

Ironically, part of the reason the HDP is even involved is Erdogan's initiative to give greater rights to Kurds, Turkey's biggest ethnic minority.

But the HDP has in recent weeks bitterly accused the government of dragging its feet in the peace process ending a conflict with armed separatists that has claimed tens of thousands of lives.

"No matter what happens we will defend a solution without weapons and democratic policies," the HDP said in its election manifesto.

As well as courting the Kurdish vote, the HDP is seeking to broaden its appeal to leftist secular Turks attracted by its leftist and pro-women and pro-gay message.

"We are telling the homophobic mindset which does not recognise any colour than black and white... to embrace their colours," Yuksekdag said.

It promised to implement a system of male and female co-prime ministers, as is done in the party leadership.

The party also pledged to remove militarist and chauvinistic language from school books, and create a multi-lingual education system.

Promoting a secular agenda, it pledges to abolish the government directorate of religious affairs and mandatory religion courses.

Casting itself as the party of the environment, it pledges to reduce defence expenditure, stop nuclear energy investments, and not allow shopping malls in city centre.

Party leaders also promised to apologise to the Armenians and other peoples on behalf of the Turkish state for "genocides and massacres committed in history."

Demirtas, who drew the ire for recognising the 1915 killings of Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire during World War I years as genocide, promised to "unconditionally reopen the Turkish-Armenian border."

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