Demirtaş: A democracy alliance should be established

Demirtaş thinks that, come 24 June, the AKP will be in opposition in parliament and then adds another important note: The Nation Alliance should be broadened and turned into a democracy alliance. We will be open to this.

20 Haziran 2018 Çarşamba, 10:52
Demirtaş: A democracy alliance should be established
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For the first time in Turkish history, a presidential candidate is spending the election in jail. The HDP’s candidate Selahattin Demirtaş is in detention and has been in Edirne Prison since November 2016. On the one hand, he is ignored by most of the media and, on the other, he is the butt of harsh language from the ruling party. He has been accepted by the state itself to meet the criteria for being a presidential candidate but, despite the objections citing a “fair election” and “equal canvassing rights” by the other opposition candidates, he continues to be held in prison. As a lawyer who has worked in the field of human rights, Demirtaş is an individual who has moved around many prisons in Turkey. He knows what prison is. Despite the constrained circumstances, he uses social media to great effect to make his voice heard to the masses. Just as with all the candidates in the election, Cumhuriyet wished to speak to Demirtaş. It would have liked this to have been under conditions of liberty. Since this was not possible, it applied to the Ministry of Justice one month ago for a prison visit. A reply has not been forthcoming. It thus forwarded questions via his lawyers. We are publishing verbatim the replies to our questions by Demirtaş, one of the few leaders to stand for president from prison in world political history.

-In the peace and negotiation process, you went on a visit to İmralı once, but over the process as a whole the negotiations were conducted by another delegation. Why did you keep your distance?

I went to İmralı Island seven or eight times. Due to the demands imposed on me by my co-chairship duties, I assigned my delegation work duties to Mr Baluken. This change took place over the normal course of events. I concerned myself with coordinating and monitoring party affairs within the solution process. My supervision and knowledge continued to be brought to bear on each moment and each development of the solution process, so, I was not excluded. In the final analysis, the solution process delegation conducted its activities as a delegation affiliated to our party.

-How did the solution process move forward and at what point did a rupture take place? What calculations lay behind its initiation and ending? What were the critical moments and decisions?

An exceptionally sincere and well-intentioned effort was mounted in the search for a solution and peace. It was a process that focussed on a civilian solution under a democratic framework within Turkey’s integrity. There was not a single secret aim that was kept hidden from the public and no such purpose was served. On this point, everybody must know this to have been so. But, the basic problem was Erdoğan’s insistence on converting this process and the social support engendered by this process initially into votes, and then into a powerful single-man regime. He made no secret of his wish for 400 seats to this end. And, to attain this goal, he used indirect means to pressurise us for the HDP to contest the 7 June elections as independent candidates rather than as a party. And we did not accept this. And Erdoğan, saying what was the point of conducting the solution process given it would not benefit him, rejected the solution declaration declared at Dolmabahçe and proclaimed that the process had ended. It was Erdoğan who first announced and first proclaimed the end of the process.

ERDOĞAN IN A PANIC

Demirtaş commented on Erdoğan calling him a “terrorist leader” and his accusation relating to 6-8 October.

-The president frequently raises your role in the 6-8 October events and you have issued an open challenge over this.

I both commented in public on this countless times when I was on the outside, and have adduced this in court along with evidence. Neither I nor the HDP calls for absolutely anything involving violence. It was Erdoğan who both created and brought into circulation this lie and aspersion. And the pro-regime media tried to do its bit for this perception to take hold by creating thousands of reports, articles and comments. In fact, no such trial or investigation has even been brought against any of us including me. The one who bears political responsibility is Erdoğan, who made a joyful announcement on 7 October that “Kobani is on the verge of falling” and incited the people. The time when the events started was following that announcement. Those who wish to find out far greater details can read my defence posted on the HDP’s site.

-In fact, President Erdoğan has gone further in recent days and addressed you as “terrorist leader” in public. What is your take on this situation?

He is wandering around from arena to arena in panic, in a spiritual state of mental imbalance and unaware of what he is saying. With my candidacy upsetting all his plans, he attacks and abuses me with rancour and malice and is particularly trying to block the way for the opposition to act in unison in the second round. Just now, all his rhetoric and calculations relate to the second round. Everyone should be cognisant of this and adopt a clear stance in opposition to this campaign of incitement, aspersion and defamation by Erdoğan. From among the candidates, the only one in the past to have been convicted and sentenced in a finalised ruling for inciting the people to hatred and enmity is Erdoğan and the only party to have been penalised by the Constitutional Court for having become a focal point for reaction is the AKP. If we are going to talk with reference to court decisions, instead of looking at political order for my detention, let us look at these.

The Kurds heard everything

-How do you think the AKP-MHP alliance has influenced this ruling party that has been in place for sixteen years and has managed to consolidate its vote to a significant extent over this period?

The AKP’s racist and nationalist convulsions have naturally enough led to an alliance with the MHP. But, from this stage onwards, the AKP has now lost its character as a centrist party and turned into a nationalist party, and it will for sure pull its vote and electoral support towards the borders of the new line.

-What is the reason that the AKP, as it itself boasted, was for a lengthy time the party to get the most Kurdish votes, and if this has changed what is the reason for losing them?

The AKP has not got more Kurdish votes than the HDP in any election. This is a thoroughly mistaken picture. The results of the polls are there for all to see, anyway. But, after the HDP, it is most certainly the AKP that gets the most votes from Kurds. But, in these elections, this gap will widen. The AKP with a racist, nationalist line has ceased to be a party that courts esteem of promises hope among Kurds. Are Kurds imagined not to have heard the anti-Kurdish rhetoric and actions of recent times?

Post-24 June forecasts

-As to the very near future, what do you foresee for 24 June, not just in terms of the vote you and the HDP will get, but the new political combination?

The opposition will gain the majority in parliament. The presidential elections will go to a second round and Erdoğan will lose. As to the HDP, if there is no serious fraud and a powerful network of solidarity is formed around the HDP, it will be in parliament. The opposition cannot actually attain a majority in parliament in any other way. So, the opposition in the new political period will henceforth be the AKP.

-All candidates proclaim crazy projects and try to outdo the others’ pledges. Do you have a special and crazy project? Are you going to come out with very specific pledges?

All my projects are intelligent and rational. Society is fed up with craziness. And my biggest project is democracy. Democracy is the outset of and solution for everything.

No second-round boycott

Demirtaş stressed that they would not hold a boycott if he was not the candidate remaining in the second round along with Erdoğan: a struggle for democracy is essential.

-You made some important declarations that could be considered self-criticism in your defence in the court, but these were not brought to public attention to a great extent by the HDP. Why?

With the press embargo against the HDP being so severe, it is hardly surprising that this could not be done adequately. But, the press overall did not even cover my hearings, because the order to the central media was from a high place.

-Do you think all sides need to face the facts and engage in self-criticism over both the peace process and the politics of war that were experienced subsequently?

Undoubtedly. It is hard to construct a new peace process without everyone who was involved in this process engaging in sincere and realistic self-criticism and facing up to the errors and shortcomings of that period.

Debate over candidacy

-Your decision not to be general chair and the fairly late announcement of your presidential candidacy has given rise to speculation. How do things really stand?

As you said, what was written and said about these things were speculation. Candidacy was proposed to me by my party. With me approving this, this proposal was turned into a resolution by the base in popular meetings and consultations with civil society organisations in all localities. This took a little time as things stood and this is what it amounts to.

-What do you think of the performance and campaign trajectories of your other rival candidates, not least Erdoğan?

Erdoğan is waging an unfair campaign with all the state’s resources, but one that is exceptionally ineffective and disordered. He is projecting a profile that is spent, bankrupt and tired. He appears to have sunk so far to the bottom of the well as to clasp at the hangman’s rope. He strives endlessly to influence the electorate with lies, aspersions and angry speech. But, he is somehow unable to fill the grounds even with transported crowds. As his sorry political end nears his panic and anger increase. The opposition candidates appear to be conducting more animated, effective efforts. Erdoğan cannot even tolerate and cope with one or two messages that I am able to send out from here. He is just flapping around in hopelessness.

Conditions here have not changed

-How are you campaigning from prison? Has there been an improvement or change in prison conditions since you became a candidate and started campaigning?

I am trying through the lawyers to contribute to the campaign being waged on the outside with brief support messages. Prison conditions are the same now as they were at the outset.

-Has there been a relaxation over using the kettle? Because, on the outside even drawing a kettle has turned into a crime. Are new social media rallies on the cards?

I am trying with new means and methods and avoiding repetition as far as possible to get through to the outside, but the facilities are so limited that there is little left that is doable. Not social media rallies, but our efforts to reach the electorate through different means and methods will continue.

-Can the political set-up that will emerge on 24 June create an atmosphere conducive to the discussion of peace and democracy without an effective facing up to facts?

As I also pointed out in my previous replies, there is an absolute need to draw lessons from the past and progress to the future having faced up to errors.

All of our votes are for peace

-Do you think the alliances set up for electoral purposes will continue after the election? Will the HDP be kept outside all alliances?

I believe that the current Nation Alliance should be broadened and turned into a democracy alliance. At least in the transitional process which will normalise Turkey and put it back on the course of democracy, each party must act with self-sacrifice, prepare its base for this and be high-minded enough to place its partisan interests in the background and act in unison for society’s shared interests. Turkey is longing for this. From now on, in place of sectarianism, tension and stoking up enmity, we must be able to create a culture of governing through accord. We as the HDP will be open to this. We will use each vote cast for us in the interests of accord, cohabitation and peace.

-If you do not make it to the second round, will you make the decision and contribute via the kettle to supporting one of the prevailing candidates?

There will certainly be no position involving boycott etc. in the second round. We will continue our campaign unabated in the second round as now within the framework of democratic accord.

-You frequently stress the need to be optimistic but if the result to emerge is the continuation of the present state of affairs what do you think will happen?

We will continue the struggle in same way. Politics is a business of patience and reason. We are not minded to do homage and surrender. Any option apart from struggling with persistence, decisiveness and hope until democracy wins is not an option.

Release scenarios

-There was talk of your release following your candidacy on the grounds that your being in prison would increase your vote. Did you find this prospect to be realistic?

This is not particularly possible under the current judicial order. But, if a response is mounted in kind to Erdoğan’s campaign of psychological war, aspersion and defamation, the judiciary is also obliged to comply with the law.

-What has been the development or attitude that has surprised you or seemed repugnant to you the most for the time you have been in prison and since the election process started?

Trust me, all developments are progressing as I expected or forecast. No quirk in Turkey surprises me anymore.

-To what extent and how are you able to follow the media? Has prison management made a change as to your access to the media following your candidacy?

We watch a few news stations on TV. And we read twelve newspapers daily. There has been no change in our situation after the candidacy. Everything is standard F-Type practice.

-How much has your prison routine changed before and after the candidacy? Are there new routines apart from the meetings attended by Mr Abdullah (Zeydan)?

Following the candidacy, all our time is now devoted to the elections. The days go by with daily lawyer visits several times, interviews, election polls, campaigning strategies and reports from the ground and media monitoring. Mr Zeydan is focused on the elections just like a full campaign administrator. He is displaying serious solidarity with me both as my biggest helper and my only rally audience member.

I am actually still a member of parliament and possess immunity

-You chose to act in defiance rather than campaign against the lifting of immunities. Do you still find this decision to be correct?

I wish to underline a critical point here. Immunities cannot be lifted through statute or placing a supplementary article in the Constitution. They can purely and simply be lifted under a parliamentary resolution. A parliamentary resolution is a different thing from a statute. So, since the procedure conducted in parliament was in blatant violation of the Constitution, I am currently a member of parliament possessing immunity. But, it has still become certain that the constitutional arrangement in question will be made.

İnce's approach to the Kurdish issue

-Do you think that the CHP and especially Muharrem İnce who came to visit you have put forward a new approach to the Kurdish issue?

There is an attempt to say new things. Even an approach in the form of finding a solution through making peace and talking is valuable. There is another path apart from war and violence and that is the path of politics and democracy. Even reaching accord on this point and the readiness to seek a solution will contribute towards the culture of accord that Turkey needs.

-What did you discuss with Muharrem İnce and how do find his campaign to the extent you are able to follow it?

We did not broach political matters to a great extent on his visit. We wished one another success. Mr İnce is giving it his all and, as far as I can see, he is waging an effective campaign.

Five problems and five solutions

-Economy: There is a need to rapidly move towards production and increase employment.

-Democracy: A new constitution, ending the state of emergency, serious reforms in media, expression and demonstration rights.

-Justice: Wide-ranging judicial reform for an independent, impartial judiciary.

-Education: Ending 4+4+4, scientific, secular, democratic education free of charge and in the native language.

-Health: Free, accessible and quality health support for all.

And to crown all this, a strong social

Peace: This must encapsulate a solution to the Kurdish problem.

A taxi driver came up with the slogan

-Your pronouncement in parliament, “We will not make you president” was clearly most effective. How did this pronouncement and slogan come about? How did this comment of yours affect the process?

We have known since that time that the model Erdoğan was proposing was not a presidential system. It was obvious from the proposal that the AKP’s Constitutional Commission made that this was a single-man regime and had been fashioned in keeping with Erdoğan’s needs and demands. We saw that this was not a democratic form of government and openly said we could not support it. For his part, Erdoğan was pressurising the HDP not to object to this model with the solution process in mind. However, the aim of the solution process was a high-standard democracy, not Erdoğan’s single-man system. As the 7 June elections approached, the notion was instilled among wide sections of society that Erdoğan would reach agreement with the HDP over the presidential system after the election and so votes should not be given to the HDP. And we thought there was a need to develop an effective discourse to dispel this misconception. On a Monday on which I was to hold a group meeting in parliament on the very next day, one of our members of parliament who had gone home by commercial taxi related to me how the driver had turned to him and said, “If I am sure that you will not make Erdoğan president after the election, I will vote for you.” Based on this, we conducted an analysis and determined that that taxi driver’s expectation was actually a general social expectation. And on the following day I made a one-sentence speech to the group and we resolved to take a clear position that would assuage these concerns in society. So, the slogan was the brainchild of an Ankara taxi driver.

Have the Kurds become a minority in the HDP?

-The HDP, excluded from the opposition alliance, has fielded many left-socialist candidates, and in fact Kurdish representation has fallen into the minority. What is your take on this?

Nobody has fallen into a minority in the HDP. The HDP is a powerful movement of democracy in which all the oppressed converge under law among equals. Careful study of the names and candidates will reveal that this perspective has been preserved.

My team will not be solely from the HDP

-The other candidates have not revealed the kind of team they will work with if elected. Have you looked into things team-wise?

For sure. If elected, my team will certainly not be solely composed of HDP members. It will consist at least half of women and of colleagues from each party who possess merit, ability, sincerity and honesty. If we cannot govern Turkey together, we will be incapable of solving any problem.

Walking down a tree-lined, quiet road

-You have most certainly missed your family and children the most, but what are the things of a personal nature you have longed to do and whose absence you have felt the most?

I would like to walk for a long way down a tree-lined, quiet road early in the morning.

I felt excitement during my Television and Radio Corporation speech

-The Television and Radio Corporation filmed at the prison recently. What feelings did it fill you with to come before the cameras after months?

I thought I would have difficulty but I did not feel greatly out of place. The opportunity to speak to the millions even excited me. It was great, in short.

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