Jailed Kurdish leader quits active politics after party slips in Turkey election

  • World
  • Thursday, 01 Jun 2023

FILE PHOTO: A supporter of Turkey's main pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) holds a mask of their jailed former leader and presidential candidate Selahattin Demirtas during a rally in Ankara, Turkey, June 19, 2018. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

ANKARA (Reuters) - A jailed Kurdish leader said on Thursday he was withdrawing from active politics and called on his party's officials to conduct "comprehensive self-criticism" after its poorer than expected performance in Turkey's elections last month.

His pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), running under another party banner due to a potential ban over alleged militant ties, won 8.79% of the votes in the parliamentary election on May 14.

In the 2018 elections, the HDP won 11.7% support. It remains the third largest party in parliament after last month's vote.

"I sincerely apologise to our people for not being able to carry out a policy worthy of them," former HDP leader Selahattin Demirtas told news website Artigercek from Edirne prison in northwest Turkey.

"While I will maintain my struggle with resistance from prison like all my comrades, I'm withdrawing from active politics at this stage."

A prosecutor filed a closure case against the HDP in March 2021, accusing it of having ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is designated a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union as well as by Turkey.

The HDP denies ties to the PKK, which has battled the Turkish state for decades in a separatist conflict that has claimed more than 40,000 lives.

Demirtas was a co-chair of the HDP between 2014 and 2018. Despite being in jail since 2016, he has remained a key political figure in Turkish politics, issuing daily political messages over his Twitter account to his more than 2 million followers.

The HDP and its allies did not field a presidential candidate in the elections and backed main opposition candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu. In the May 28 runoff, President Tayyip Erdogan won 52.2% of votes, extending his two-decade rule. Kilicdaroglu got 47.8% support.

Demirtas said he would remain an HDP member and called on his party to conduct self-criticism.

"What we need most is intra-party democracy. When intra-party democracy declines, mistakes come one after another."

Demirtas ran for president twice, once in 2014 and again from behind bars in 2018, when he came third with 8.4% of votes.

He said he had told the HDP leadership before the election that he was willing to run for president again but his offer was refused.

"My candidacy would have increased our votes... But I still don't know why it was refused," he said.

Demirtas, 49, was previously sentenced to three years in jail for insulting the president. He remains in prison, facing a potential life sentence in a trial with more than 100 other HDP politicians, accused of instigating 2014 protests in which dozens died.

In his victory speech, Erdogan said releasing Demirtas would not be possible under his rule and called him a "terrorist".

Kilicdaroglu had pledged that if he won the election Turkey would comply with European Court of Human Rights rulings calling for Demirtas' release.

(Reporting by Huseyin Hayatsever; Editing by Daren Butler and Frances Kerry)

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