Throughout recent years, Turkey has shown many characteristics of democratic backsliding under the leadership of President Erdogan and his party, the Justice and Development Party. One of the key symptoms of democratic erosion is the banning of opposition parties and censoring of ideas that contradict the beliefs of the ruling party. This can be seen in Turkey as the government has made efforts to ban a far-left party, the People’s Democratic Party, or the HDP.
After a convention held in 2011 focused on promoting human rights in Turkey, the People’s Democratic Congress (HDK) was founded as an organization to work with non-governmental organizations to advance human rights. They soon set up a political party, the HDP. The HDP, initially founded as a secondary organization, soon moved beyond the HDK to be the main force of human rights in the country as it gained status as a prominent political party. As a pro-Kurdish, left-wing party, their negotiation of a cease-fire with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Turkish government from 2013-2015 gave the HDP an opportunity to expand their reach (Kaya). The PKK movement had been working for increased human rights for Kurdish people since 1984, but due to its violent tactics it has since been recognized by Turkey and many western countries as a terrorist organization (Kaya). During the period of cease-fire, the HDP organized and gained popularity with voters throughout the country as it attempted to further the potential of peace brought about by the agreement. In the election in 2014, the HDP was the representative of left-leaning ideals, and it continued to grow as a party into 2015 when the party gained seats in the Turkish Parliament (Kaya).
The People’s Democratic Party gained popularity in the 2015 elections in Turkey, rising to the forefront of the political scene as the opposition party to the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, headed by President Erdogan. In 2015, the HDP gained 80 seats in parliament after receiving 13% of the votes (Kaya). Its campaign ran with the intention of preventing a transition to an authoritarian government under Erdogan. The party was formed by multiple different groups including “radical left organizations, liberal-left circles and social movements,” namely the Kurdish Liberation Movement (Kaya). The Kurdish part of Turkey is in the southeastern area of the country, where Kurds are the primary ethnic group. Pro-Kurdish ideals range from the desire for more autonomy within Turkey and increased political rights to demands for a separate, independent Kurdistan. The HDP emphasizes their support of these ideals, and goes beyond them to create a party that is inclusive and welcoming of all people (Kaya).
In contrast to the HDP, the Justice and Development Party, or the AKP, is headed by President Erdogan. The AKP is characterized by far-right, populist ideals that often directly contradict the ideas of the People’s Democratic Party. While the AKP’s rise to power originally initiated democratic reforms in the country, it has since led to a decline of democracy. Therefore, the People’s Democratic Party poses a problem for President Erdogan as it threatens their far-right beliefs and authoritarian practices. In early 2021, legal movements were enacted in Turkey by a prosecutor in an attempt to ban the HDP. The case was brought to the Turkish Constitutional Court which has the power to “close” political parties, and which has been shifted ideologically to the right in recent years by the AKP party (Oder). The reasoning behind the claim was an accusation of the HDP being linked to the Kurdish militant organization previously mentioned, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (BBC). In recent years, many people related to the HDP have been investigated or imprisoned by the government on similar accusations, so the movement to ban the party represents a culmination of many years of conflict.
As of April 2022, the case is still in progress, and the indictment against the HDP has not yet been decided upon by the court. If the court sides with the prosecution, the Peoples’ Democratic Party, the third largest political party in Turkey, will be shut down. Due to the party’s popularity in the country, a dissolution of the party would deprive many citizens of leaders with ideals they chose to represent them (FIDH).
In conclusion, in an attempt to increase authoritarian power in Turkey, its president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has curbed many democratic freedoms. These actions include curtailing freedom of the press and freedom of speech. In addition, there has been significant political maneuvering toward the effort of banning the opposition parties, namely the People’s Democratic Party. Taken together, these are classic signs of democratic erosion, and are cause for concern as President Erdogan continues to maintain power as president.