Friday, June 10, 2011

Getting the Nationalist Vote . . .

EPA Photo from Al-Jazeera English

As the part of the AKP's continuing efforts to cater its election rhetoric to nationalist voters, Prime Minister Erdogan has declared that he would have executed jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan had he been prime minister at the time. Erdogan accused the MHP of giving its support to a 2002 that abolished the death penalty, implying that problems with Ocalan would have been solved if the government at the time had properly sent him to the gallows.

The remarks came in response to unfounded allegations from the MHP that the AKP-led government was in negotiations with the PKK to arrange for Ocalan's release. At the moment, the AKP and the ultra-nationalist MHP are both competing to win nationalist votes. For more on this dynamic, click here.

While the AKP might succeed in luring votes away from MHP by taking a hardline position on the Kurdish issue, it does so at the cost of further alienating Kurdish voters in Turkey's mostly Kurdish southeast. Recently, the party has been behaving as if these voters simply do not matter and the result will indubitably be a historic increase in the number of votes the Kurdish nationalist party receives on Sunday.

More troubling is that the AKP's election rhetoric will seriously hamper its chances of repairing its relationship with nationalist Kurds with whom it will likely have to work with to some degree if it is going to pass a constitution that takes all views into account, as Erdogan has expressed is his intention. Given the party's nationalist turn, it will be very difficult to win Kurdish nationalist voters, even those who are not necessarily supportive of the PKK-affiliated BDP.

Meanwhile, an even bigger danger lurks that could further compounds AKP's Kurdish problem. Ocalan, through his lawyers, is threatening a drastic increase in PKK violence should the government not move to negotiate with the PKK by June 15. The specter of renewed PKK violence of the kind last summer will only serve to distract from the government's efforts to pass a constitution and further polarize Turks and Kurds.

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