April 13, 2015 / 2:23 PM / 5 years ago

Turkey's pro-Kurdish HDP bets on new voters to exceed threshold in June polls

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey’s Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) is betting on newfound appeal beyond its Kurdish base to propel it into parliament for the first time, threatening to deprive the ruling party of critical seats in June elections.

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 April 12, 2015. REUTERS/Osman Orsal

While small, the HDP could play a significant role in the parliamentary polls, given that the AK Party founded by President Tayyip Erdogan needs a sweeping victory to change the constitution and broaden his presidential powers.

“Crowds who have never thought of voting for us before are now considering it,” the party’s co-chair Selahattin Demirtas said in an interview in the capital Ankara. “Our target is 100 seats in the parliament and 15 percent of the votes.”

The leftist HDP, which has traditionally represented the interests of Turkey’s Kurdish ethnic minority, is running as a party for the first time.

It needs to meet a 10 percent threshold in the polls to enter parliament, and in the past ran its candidates as independents to skirt that controversial rule.

In 2011, HDP-linked independent candidates won 36 seats in the 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 August 2014 presidential elections.

Analysts say the party is resonating more with the liberal, middle-class Turks who see the opposition CHP as disorganized. The HDP is also keen to win followers against those Kurds who have traditionally supported the AK Party, which retains a strong base among the conservative working class.

Ankara has been pushing for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) to lay down its arms as part of the peace process ahead of polling day, and its jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan said last month it was time to end an armed struggle that has killed 40,000 people.

The government has stepped up its rhetoric against the HDP, saying it tried to use recent clashes between Turkish soldiers and Kurdish militants to whip up anti-government sentiment and gain Kurdish votes from the AK party.

“To put hopes on guns in an election is a sign of desperation and disrespecting the national will,” said Deputy Prime Minister Yalcin Akdogan.

But Demirtas said the government was trying to take electoral advantage of the peace process. “The government wanted to ... turn the desire for peace into votes,” he said.

“We will not let this be taken advantage of.”

Writing by Jonny Hogg; Editing by Humeyra Pamuk and Andrew Roche

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