Turkey's opposition unsure on embracing pro-Kurdish party

Turkey's opposition bloc names Kilicdaroglu as candidate in May election
Turkey's main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu greets his supporters at the party's headquarters after a six-party alliance announced him as its presidential candidate, in Ankara, Turkey March 6, 2023. Alp Eren Kaya/Republican People's Party/Handout via REUTERS
  • Opposition alliance named presidential candidate Monday
  • Nationalist voters uneasy with open pro-Kurdish HDP support
  • Erdogan expected to play up alleged HDP ties to militants
  • HDP role requires "very fine balance," bloc source says

ANKARA, March 7 (Reuters) - A call by Turkey's pro-Kurdish party for talks with an opposition alliance on supporting its joint candidate to challenge President Tayyip Erdogan in a May election has caused unease among some nationalist elements of the diverse union.

Mithat Sancar, co-leader of the left-wing Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), parliament's third biggest, made the appeal late Monday after the six-party opposition bloc announced that Kemal Kilicdaroglu would be its candidate.

Two officials in the alliance told Reuters there were fears that such talks with the HDP, which faces potential closure in a court case over alleged ties to Kurdish militants, could undermine support among nationalist voters hostile to its pro-Kurdish politics.

The HDP is widely seen playing a kingmaker role in the presidential and parliamentary votes expected on May 14. The separate six-party bloc will likely need its support to end Erdogan's two-decade political reign.

Encompassing social democrats, nationalists, secularists and Islamists, the bloc put aside differences on Monday to endorse candidate Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition centrist Republican People's Party (CHP).

Around the same time, Sancar invited the bloc to hold talks that might pave the way for the HDP supporting Kilicdaroglu.

"Our goal is democracy, justice, freedom. Basically, we want to talk about principles," he told broadcaster Haberturk.

A senior alliance party official told Reuters that Sancar's invitation was "a little early," adding the issue of how the HDP provides support was set to be the opposition's biggest problem.

"The open support of the HDP would draw (negative) reactions, notably from the IYI Party and its grassroots," he said of the nationalist party, second biggest in the alliance.

"HDP support is extremely critical," he said, but added that it could undermine backing elsewhere.

A senior figure in another alliance party said public HDP endorsement could cut IYI support by 5 percentage points and CHP by 2-3 percentage points.

Some polls put the opposition alliance ahead of the ruling coalition of Erdogan's Islamist-rooted AKP and the nationalist MHP but they generally point to a tight race. The HDP has about 10% support nationwide.


Kilicdaroglu in a speech on Tuesday did not reference the HDP and said that the other five parties would help seal victory.

"A very fine balance has to be found here. Otherwise, there may be a price to pay," the second official said. "Votes coming from the HDP may be matched by those lost in the alliance."

Asked about Kilicdaroglu's potential dialogue with the HDP, IYI Party leader Meral Aksener told Haberturk on Tuesday that everyone should respect the relations between other political parties. But she said that the HDP can never join their alliance or be given a ministry if the opposition wins.

Turkey's Constitutional Court is hearing a case aimed at closing the HDP over alleged ties to Kurdish militants, which the party denies. In campaigning, Erdogan will likely play up alleged links and the HDP's opposition role, analysts say.

The timing of a verdict was unclear, but the court rejected an HDP request to delay a ruling until after the elections. It has already frozen the party's bank accounts.

The second official, who was not authorised to speak on the record, said some Kurdish voters would not back the opposition alliance due to IYI's involvement.

Sancar said the HDP played a key role in creating political balances in Turkey and this should take place in the open, not behind closed doors. He added that no progress had been made since it set out its policies in September.

The HDP previously signalled that it would field its own candidate in the absence of talks, but Sancar said the party was reconsidering that after last month's earthquake.

Additional reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Jonathan Spicer, Alexandra Hudson and Mark Porter

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