Sunday, May 4, 2008

Biding Time

PHOTO FROM Today's Zaman

Recent political maneuverings within DTP . . .

From Today's Zaman:
Despite the closure case facing the Democratic Society Party (DTP), it does not appear to be in a hurry to elect a new leader, but it does seem caught up in discussions over the structure that a new party or parties would take.

Nurettin Demirtaş, who was incarcerated last year on charges of forging a document to evade military conscription, was released last week. He was subsequently enlisted in the army and thus had to resign from his position. While Demirtaş was in prison the leadership of the party was held by Emine Ayna. Although the Law on Political Parties does not allow co-chairmanship of parties, since its establishment the DTP has unofficially had one man and one woman chairperson.
The Law on Political Parties requires a party congress to be convened within 45 days of a chairman's resignation. Kamuran Yüksek, the DTP vice chairman who is responsible for the organization of the party, pointed out that parties can request an additional 45 days. "We did not ask for this additional 45 days, but we will because we were planning to hold our regular congress after June 25," he said.

The Law on Political Parties also requires the election of an acting chairman until the congress is held. The DTP's party council will meet in the coming days to elect an acting leader who will direct the party until the congress. But according to Yüksek the date for the party council meeting is not clear yet.

It is almost certain that Ayna will continue in her post as co-chairperson, but there are several names for the male co-chairmanship. Selahattin Demirtaş, DTP deputy and brother of the former chairman, and Fırat Anlı, mayor of the Yenişehir district of Diyarbakır, are among the possible candidates for this position. Ahmet Türk is another strong candidate, although he was strongly criticized by certain segments of the party when he held the chairmanship before Demirtaş. He has been accused of being "moderate," especially after he shook hands with Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli at the inauguration ceremony of Parliament. His gesture was welcomed by a large segment of society but not within his own party.

Outlawed terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan was among the criticizers. When talking to his lawyers he continues to criticize the DTP, accusing the party of not being active enough. The discussion among the DTP is not solely about the new chairman but also the establishment of a new party in the event of closure.

Turkey's top prosecutor in November asked for the closure of the DTP, accusing it of being "a focal point" of separatist activities. Since then the DTP has tried to bide its time and hang on until the local elections scheduled for March 2009.

Another party facing a closure case is the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party). The DTP, while discussing the formation of one or two new parties in the event of closure, is closely watching the developments in the AK Party case. One option the AK Party is considering is bringing constitutional amendments to Parliament for making party closures more difficult. Such a move could benefit the DTP, too. But the AK Party, instead of asking for additional time to prepare its defense, submitted it this week. This was considered a signal that the AK Party would not take the constitutional amendment route, since if it had been planning to do so it would try to buy more time.

The main idea behind hanging on until the local elections is that the latter will be a sort of referendum on the party and the Kurdish question. The DTP thinks the AK Party is losing ground in Kurdish-populated areas, with the former expecting to see a significant increase in its votes. After the local elections, if everything goes as planned, the DTP will be stronger than ever; yet the discussions among party circles over forming new parties are continuing.

One idea is to establish an umbrella party for the socialist left, including the Labor Party (EMEP), Social Democratic People's Party (STP) and the Freedom and Solidarity Party (ÖDP). Some circles within the DTP think their party is an "identity" party based on the Kurdish question and that there will be some difficulties in acting jointly with the aforementioned parties. The defenders of this idea are suggesting that instead of losing time by establishing an umbrella party, energy should be directed toward forming a similar party and the closure case facing the DTP.

Others such as Ahmet Türk and Akın Birdal, former chairman of the Human Rights Association (İHD) and now a Diyarbakır deputy, support the umbrella party concept. Birdal has been meeting with other parties over the matter. Not only within the DTP but also in the ÖDP there have been serious discussions over an umbrella party. Another option is to form an umbrella party but also to establish another party based on the Kurdish identity struggle. Despite these differing views, a third option would be to enter the local elections as a coalition. But so far, as almost all the prominent members of the DTP put it, nothing is clear yet.

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