It should look as if he never existed: Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu only just lost his seat on Wednesday when the Turkish administration deleted his name and contact details from the parliamentary register.
At this point in time, Gergerlioğlu’s party colleagues from the left, pro-Kurdish HDP were demonstrating in the plenary hall in Ankara against the decision, which they see as a coup by the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Gergerlioğlu himself is calling for a sit-in. “I will resist and not allow the national will to be trampled on,” he said.
Gergerlioğlu, a trained doctor, 55 years old, is a committed fighter for human rights in Turkey. The Erdoğan government, however, sees him as a terrorist helper. The judiciary charged him with a tweet from 2016 in which he called for a peaceful solution to the Kurdish conflict. After a majority of MPs voted for Gergerlioğlu’s immunity to be lifted, the HDP politician is now due to go to prison for two and a half years.
“This procedure marks a new low”
Gergerlioğlu’s expulsion from parliament on Wednesday was only the prelude to a much broader government attack on the HDP. Immediately after the vote, the Turkish Public Prosecutor, Bekir Sahin, announced that he had filed a ban against the party with the constitutional court.
The HDP is to be dissolved. 687 of its members, including the two co-chairs Pervin Buldan and Mithat Sancar, as well as the former party leader Selahattin Demirtaş, are said to be banned from politics and all of the party’s funds are to be confiscated. It is the Erdoğan’s worst blow to date against the pro-Kurdish democracy movement.
The HDP is the third largest party in the Turkish parliament. She won eleven percent of the vote in the 2018 election. Sahin, who was appointed chief prosecutor by Erdoğan just last June, accuses her of being the political arm of the terrorist organization PKK. “The HDP members worked with the PKK to destroy the unity of the nation,” he said in writing.
The HDP is combative. According to a first statement by the party, the application for a ban shows how weak the government is. “She wants to eliminate us because she can’t beat us at the ballot box.” The HDP leadership should be aware, however, that a ban will be difficult to prevent. Erdoğan has almost complete control over the judiciary. He would hardly tolerate a trial like this if he assumed it could fail in court.
A ban on the HDP is a kind of political nuclear strike. The outrage over the government’s move reaches across political camps. “To ban a political party that has won six million votes means to despise the will of the electorate,” criticizes the leader of the Muslim-conservative Deva party, Ali Babacan, who was once Minister of Economic Affairs under Erdoğan. “This government has already damaged democracy in every possible way,” says Socialist MP Sezgin Tanrikulu. “But this process marks a new low.”
Erdoğan’s polls are at a low point
Party bans have a long, unfortunate tradition in Turkey. At least 20 parties have been closed since 1961, including Refah, the predecessor of Erdoğan’s AKP party, in the 1990s. Erdoğan himself has repeatedly branded party bans as undemocratic. AKP Vice President Numan Kurtulmus spoke out against a ban on the HDP last year. “In Turkey, party bans have never resulted in anything positive,” he said.
The U-turn shows how great the uncertainty in the government is now quite obvious. The Turkish economy has been in crisis for years, and the corona pandemic has only exacerbated the plight of many people. Erdoğan’s polls are at a low point. He currently has a bad chance of being re-elected as president. “The government tried authoritarianism with elections,” says the historian Ayse Hür. “But the problems are so great that it has now ushered in the second phase, authoritarianism without elections. I cannot predict what will come in the third phase. “
Erdoğan also seems driven by his right-wing extremist coalition partner, the MHP. It is true that the MHP only got around seven percent of the votes in surveys. But their influence on Turkish politics has grown steadily recently. It was MHP boss Devlet Bahceli who – unlike Erdoğan – loudly advocated a ban on the HDP.
“Erdoğan has absolute power over the institutions of the state, but he does not have absolute political power,” says Sinem Adar, Turkey expert at the Berlin Foundation for Science and Politics (SWP). The President is dependent on the goodwill of the MHP. “Erdoğan has surrendered to the MHP,” says HDP parliamentarian Garo Paylan.
The government has consistently criminalized the HDP in recent years. Thousands of members were arrested as alleged terrorist helpers, including ex-chairmen Figen Yüksekdag and Selahattin Demirtaş. Mayors in the predominantly Kurdish southeast of Turkey have been removed from their offices. With the ban proceedings against the HDP, Erdoğan is nevertheless taking a great risk.
In the past, parties often emerged stronger from such processes. The AKP itself gained votes in 2008 thanks to a ban proceedings that had been overcome. “It is our honorable duty for future generations to close the HDP so that it never returns under a new name,” said MHP boss Bahceli on Thursday.
A ban on the HDP is likely to further alienate millions of people in Turkey from politics. Many Kurds in particular already feel that they are marginalized and harassed by the government; a ban on HDP would only reinforce this feeling. As a consequence, some could actually join radical groups like the PKK.
Turkey’s relations with Europe and the USA are also likely to be further strained by the proceedings against the HDP. The US State Department warned that banning the party would “further undermine” Turkish democracy.
Erdoğan has demonstratively sought closeness to the Europeans in recent weeks. It was only at the beginning of March that he presented a new human rights plan. Now it shows how little his words are worth.