May 27, 2015 / 4:29 PM / 3 years ago

Kurdish party committed to peace talks whatever Turkish poll outcome

ANTALYA, Turkey (Reuters) - Turkey’s Pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) said on Wednesday June elections would lack legitimacy if a threshold for parliamentary representation deprived it of representation, but it would remain a partner in peace talks with militants.

Selahattin Demirtas, co-chairman of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democracy Party (HDP), greets his supporters during an election rally for Turkey's June 7 parliamentary elections in Istanbul, Turkey May 24, 2015. REUTERS/Osman Orsal

The fate of the HDP, which hopes to cross the 10 percent national vote threshold to enter parliament on June 7, will be critical not just for the Kurdish minority but also for the political future of President Tayyip Erdogan.

Should the HDP cross the barrier, it could take 50 seats from the ruling AK Party, potentially causing the AKP to lose its majority and be forced to form either a coalition or minority government.

That would make it more difficult for the AKP to pass constitutional changes Erdogan wants to create a powerful executive presidency.

HDP co-chairman Selahattin Demirtas, speaking in an interview late on Tuesday on the campaign trail in the southern city of Antalya, all but ruled out any coalition with the AKP party Erdogan co-founded.

“If the AKP is unable to form a government on its own, we do not look warmly on the likelihood of a HDP-AKP coalition,” he said.

“We are instead planning to be a good opposition in the coming period,” he said, voicing confidence that his party would enter parliament for the first time.

PEACE PROCESS

Kurdish parties have in the past run candidates as independents to skirt the threshold. Now the HDP is seeking to broaden its appeal beyond its Kurdish base and propel itself into the legislature.

Should it fail, there will be no representatives of pro-Kurdish opposition parties in parliament. Kurds make up an estimated 20 percent of a population of 77 million people.

In 2011, HDP-linked independent candidates won 36 seats in parliament, accounting for 6.5 percent of the votes. Opinion polls currently show it close to 10 percent, while Demirtas won 9.76 percent in an August 2014 bid for the presidency.

“A lack of representation in the legislature ... would create a crisis of legitimacy, it would weaken the belief that Turkey’s parliament represents all of Turkey,” Demirtas said.

The leftist HDP has been a key interlocutor in Erdogan’s peace efforts with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group, aimed at ending an insurgency in the mainly Kurdish southeast that has killed 40,000 people over three decades.

“If we are unable to enter parliament, it just means there won’t be a parliamentary group,” Demirtas said.

“But we will continue ... to be Turkey’s fourth-biggest party, to engage in politics and to continue our struggle on all of our issues,” he said, adding he hoped peace talks would resume after June following two months of inertia.

Turkish nationalists accuse the HDP of links to the PKK, and Erdogan and the AKP are wary of losing those votes because of their advances on the peace process.

In a speech in the Black Sea coastal city of Samsun earlier this month, Erdogan spoke of “the political party which is run by the terrorist organization”, in apparent reference to the HDP. There have also been dozens of attacks on the party’s offices in the run-up to polling day.

Demirtas said that the harsh campaign rhetoric had reduced trust in the government’s commitment to the peace process.

“It’s apparent now that it only views the resolution process as an electoral tactic,” he said.

Writing by Nick Tattersall; editing by Ralph Boulton

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