Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Kurdish boycott’ a fading option

With the referendum approaching, a review of public and not-so-public opinion polls present the following view: “Yes” votes seem to be stabilizing at around 55 percent, and “no” votes and undecided votes (which may be dominated by intimidation or political pressure) at 45 percent. Several serious pollsters I have constantly been in touch with agree that “yes” votes are on the slow increase.
We have rough ideas of where party support stands. The Justice and Development Party (AK Party), more than three pollsters say, is now above 42 percent, which is explained by the so-called “Supreme Military Council [YAŞ] crisis” -- on the choices and appointments of the top echelons of the military command. It is rather obvious that the public perceives the “crisis” as a political “derivative” of what happened on April 27, 2007, when the top command issued an extremely threatening e-memorandum against the government.

All pollsters point out that the Republican People’s Party (CHP) is descending from about 30 percent to slightly above 20-23 percent. The surveys say that Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s performance during the referendum campaign has created some disappointment, mainly due to harsh, combative, out-of-context rhetoric, perceived as a “bad copy” of Baykal’s style. One may predict that a possible defeat of the “no” side will mean trouble for the new CHP leadership, which could have chosen a softer style, leaving its voters more flexible and free. An obstinate “no” campaign now seems to be a huge gamble for the Kılıçdaroğlu line and might diminish the chances of preparing the CHP for the next national elections as a credible, hopeful, intelligent and reformed party.

The divisive effects of the referendum are also to be seen within the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which carried out a staunch “no” campaign from the very beginning. But the feedback it received has, it seems, been that of confusion and objection. A reliable source recently told me that the last meeting of the party’s executives turned into a session of harsh criticism of what is seen as the “obsessive line” of MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli. The growing vocal discontent there is based on surveys that say around a quarter of the MHP grass roots might defy the party line and vote “yes.”

Some party officials see danger ahead if the “yes” votes win, as the MHP will sink into a destructive vortex. Prominent figures feel uneasy that, by sticking to a categorical “no,” the party, which has performed relatively well in terms of protecting parliamentary democracy in recent years, now risks being perceived as an anti-democratic one -- the more the AK Party drives the reform line and the more lasting the PKK cease-fire is.

The PKK and its elected political wing, the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), are also being forced to seriously reconsider their stance. The PKK’s declared cease-fire, however fragile it may be, has two basic causes. First, the resolution of the YAŞ meeting in favor of the ruling AK Party has shown that civilians are slowly, but surely, taking control over the “autonomous” military, and this does not escape the attention of the common Turk or, more importantly, the Kurds.

Abdullah Öcalan and PKK commanders as well as the BDP have come to realize that, if the Kurdish initiative is to continue, it will have to be with the government and no longer the “state within.”

Second, the very nature of the reform package, and in particular its symbolic way of dealing with the ill spirit of the military coup, has led to a division among Kurds. And when this state of mind was confronted with the mine explosion incident in Batman (where four known Kurds died) and Dörtyol (where complex relations between the PKK and the deep state elements were exposed), a new civilian Kurdish dynamic emerged, forcing the PKK/BDP line to declare a cease-fire and phase out the rhetoric on calling for a boycott.

At this juncture, how the Kurds will act (without forgetting the traps of the fragile cease-fire, certainly) will define the future path of reform and normalization. My Kurdish sources, both hawks and doves, agree that this cease-fire is the “most serious one” after the one in 1993 that was initiated by the late President Turgut Özal. They agree that both sides are now extremely tired of fighting, and this may revive the “initiative.”

At the moment, the question is no longer whether the Kurds will boycott the Sept. 12 referendum. Rather, it is how high their turnout and how strong the “yes” vote will be. Polls (some unpublished) say over 75 percent of Kurds in Diyarbakır have declared that they will -- if necessary -- defy the boycott (this was before Öcalan said that the boycott was not a necessity).

In this sense, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stands once more before a great opportunity to strike a “bond of fraternity” with Turkey’s Kurds. He will visit Diyarbakır on Sept. 3 as well as other predominantly Kurdish cities around the same time. What he says, and does, will have a tremendous effect on the outcome of the vote as well as the pace and content of the reform process. There is no doubt that winning the hearts of Kurds will mean winning the battle for democracy.

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