Turkey’s largest non-aligned political party is planning to throw its weight behind an opposition alliance trying to unseat President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in elections in May, intensifying what’s become one of the biggest tests of his two decades in power.
The Peoples’ Democratic Party, or HDP, is prepared to back the main opposition candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu, according to people familiar with the matter. The HDP is Turkey’s leading pro-Kurdish party and has been an important factor in past elections. Its decision would be a major boost for an opposition alliance that has struggled to mount an effective campaign.
The HDP will hold talks with Kilicdaroglu in the coming days and is expected to announce its support, the people said, declining to be named because the discussions are private.
That means the party isn’t planning to field a separate presidential candidate, they said.
The HDP declined to comment.
Kilicdaroglu will meet with HDP co-chairs Mithat Sancar and Pervin Buldan on March 18, NTV reported later on Wednesday.
The threat for Erdogan is that the main Kurdish party will reprise a role it played during municipal elections four years ago, when it backed the opposition and helped swing the vote against pro-government candidates in two of Turkey’s biggest cities.
The opposition camp has already agreed that if elected, it will appoint Ekrem Imamoglu, who won the mayor’s office in Istanbul with critical backing from Kurdish voters in 2019, as a vice president.
Kilicdaroglu emerged as the main opposition candidate last week after months of infighting held up a decision on who should run. The opposition has since shown a united front, drawing on a familiar face to help reverse a shaky campaign to topple the country’s longest-serving leader.
“The HDP has been working to convince its grassroots either to vote for Kilicdaroglu or Imamoglu in presidential elections and now both of them are aiming to run the country together, said Mehmet Kaya, head of the chamber of commerce in Diyarbakir.
“HDP’s likely support for Kilicdaroglu is expected to usher a new era in relations between the Kurds and the state, Kaya said. “Kilicdaroglu will definitely need the support of Kurdish lawmakers to make laws in the parliament.
Consolidation in the opposition ranks underscores the challenge facing Erdogan as a public backlash mounts over his government’s response to deadly earthquakes last month.
The disaster hit an economy already grappling with the ripple effects of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The opposition bloc, known as the Nation Alliance, promises a return to orthodox monetary policies and an “autonomous central bank should it come out on top at the polls.
HDP voters largely regard Kilicdaroglu as a politician who could help defend rights for Turkey’s Kurdish minority. The party is currently the third largest in parliament but has been the target of a clampdown by Turkish security forces since 2015, when it denied Erdogan’s AK Party a governing majority after a surprise election outcome.
By backing Kilicdaroglu, the HDP hopes to advance its goals, as the party also faces a potential ban by the country’s top court on separatism charges. It will likely field its parliamentary candidates on the ticket of another pro-Kurdish group, the Green Left, to circumvent such a ban, the people said.
Selahattin Demirtas, a former co-leader of the HDP who’s been imprisoned since 2016, urged his party’s supporters in a Twitter post on Tuesday to print out the Green Left Party’s logo and paste it to their doors and refrigerators.
“There should be no one left who doesn’t know what it is. It will be needed, Demirtas said.