On November 5th, lawyers for the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) presented their first 173-page defense to the Constitutional Court of Turkey. The ruling Justice and Development (AKP)-led government initiated the case, in an attempt to close the left-wing opposition party for its alleged ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The defense stated that the closure case is political and drew attention to the critical role the HDP plays in Turkey’s democracy.
On June 21st of this year, the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office of the Court of Cassation submitted an 843-page indictment, calling for a political ban on all 451 politicians affiliated with the HDP. The indictment cited words and actions of 69 members of the party as criminal. It further demanded that the party be permanently closed. The indictment was accepted by the court and delivered to the HDP on July 9th.
Closure as a recurring pattern
This is not the first time that a pro-Kurdish party has been threatened with closure by law. Since the founding of the republic in 1923, the country’s constitutions have routinely limited political pluralism. Left-wing parties, Communist parties, those supporting various minority groups, and Islamist movements have all been subject to closures and bans. Kurdish parties in Turkey are favourites to undergo this fate. Until now, 23 Kurdish parties have been closed on a variation of allegations, such as terrorism and ethnic separatism.
The indictment now being levelled against the HDP does differ somewhat, however: it not only calls for closure of the party, but also for the banning of hundreds of individuals associated with it.
An attack on democracy?
Critics across the world see the closure case as a political move to clamp down on the opposition in the lead-up to the planned 2023 elections. The alleged ties to the KPP have been described as a ‘conspiracy’. “The ruling alliance of the AKP, and the Nationalist Movement Party, MHP, which cannot stop HDP in elections and cannot stop its growth politically, are now trying to push the HDP out of politics with this kind of conspiracy,” Garo Paylon, deputy president of the HDP, stated. Furthermore, the European Union has stated that the party’s closure “would violate the rights of millions of voters in Turkey”.
Since the indictment, the HDP’s central board has been examining a number of options for the upcoming parliamentary elections, planned for 2023, should the application to the Constitutional Court be successful. Options for participating in the elections are by going through another party, already-existing or new, or by having HDP politicians apply as independents. However, HDP members are well aware that even then new obstacles might be enforced.