Turkey's left party leader Selahattin Demirtaş' call for 'new way of life': radical democracy

June 8, 2015 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal  -- The June 7, 2015, general election in Turkey saw the radical left People's Democratic Party (HDP) win almost 13% of the vote and around 80 parliamentary seats.

It passed the 10% threshold for parliamentary representation for the first time, with a total of almost 6 million votes. The HDP won all the seats in the following Kurdish cities: Batman four, Agri four, Dersim two, Hakari three, Sirnak four, Igdir two. The party won 1 million votes and 11 seats in Istanbul -– a city with a huge Kurdish population although the party also won significant non-Kurdish support there. Thirty-one of the HDP’s 80 new MPs are women, the highest proportion of any party. HDP candidates included Armenians, Yezidis and Assyrians alongside Kurds. The HDP had the only openly gay candidate.

On the other hand, the ruling AKP has lost its parliamentary majority and recieved 3 million fewer votes than in 2010. The AKP lost many votes to the HDP in areas where it has had a big Kurdish following. Turkey's parliament consists of 550 seats; 276 seats are required for a single-party majority government. The ruling AKP has only secured 258 with which to try and form a coalition.

The HDP’s historic gains make the success of the peace process with the Kurds within Turkey more likely, and will restrict Turkey’s dubious relations with ISIS.

The speech below from HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş' 2014 presidential bid outlines the HDP's vision for a new Turkey.

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By Selahattin Demirtaş

People's Democratic Party (HDP) -- My candidacy is not just for a new president, but for a new way of life for Turkey. It is a proposal for rebuilding our fraternity on an equal footing. Our call is to all the peoples and all the beliefs in Turkey, to build a new life in which all are free to express their differences, free from pressure to conform.

The call for a new life is radical democracy!

I did not become a candidate in order to preside over an authoritarian, bureaucratic, anti-democratic, sexist state. The president we hope for is one who will be with the people on the streets.

This means ruling together and making everyone a partner in government. This determination not to be ruled, but for all to take part, will mean gains, not for individuals, but for the people. A new life will grow through the participation of the excluded and those voices against ethnic, religious, sexual and class discrimination which have not been heard up to now.

The new way of life means, in place of the imposition of uniformity, an equal and voluntary union of our differences. We believe that a free and democratic Turkey is possible.

Turkey is at a crossroads. Either we will choose to further consolidate the authoritarian state or we will pave the way for a fundamental change by taking radical democratic measures to realise the desires of all the oppressed.

By gathering the strength of all who object, we have the opportunity to root out the system in which the bureaucratic mechanisms of Ankara make all the decisions. Therefore, while we are presented with three candidates, there are in reality only two political choices.

Our policy: the people administers itself, freely expressing its differences with pride. The people can speak freely and determine their own future. Faced with the neoliberal and anti-democratic order, we refuse to make the false choice between nationalism and religious sectarianism.

We believe that the best government is the least government. We aim to make the state smaller and create a system where democracy and citizens’ rights prevail.  We propose to transform the state, whose current aim is to protect itself and its power, into an efficient vehicle to serve the people.

No longer will the state revolve around one person and the hierarchy around him. Peoples’ assemblies will ensure the direct participation of the people in running the state.

We will establish assemblies of women, youth, the disabled, belief groups, cultural and ethnic groups, farmers, workers and labourers. Instead of increasing the powers of the presidency, we will undertake a presidency which will guarantee the increased power of the people.

All the channels of the system will be opened up to the people and be democratised. Turkey will no longer be run by institutions that defend the status quo or the products of military coups, such as the National Security Council. Strengthened local government and democratic committees will replace these institutions.

The state will no longer audit itself. In place of the State Audit Commission, we will have the Peoples Audit Commission. This is a fundamental pre-condition of an open and transparent state.

The call for a new life is the belief in peace!

The will for peace of the peoples of Turkey is the guarantor of the peace process. The determination shown in the presidential election by those who want peace will lay the foundations for a quicker resolution of the peace process.

The solution of the Kurdish problem is an inseparable part of the democratisation of Turkey. As we bring the problem toward solution, Turkey will become more democratic. The more democratic Turkey becomes, the faster we will move toward a solution.

The will to achieve comes first from those of us who have fought for peace for years and from the forces of democracy in Turkey.

Our candidacy for the presidency has strategic importance for the achievement of a lasting peace. We are aiming for a transformation that will democratise Turkey from top to bottom and root radical democracy in society. This is the objective of our call for change.

Our diversity is our strength, not our weakness. Our democratic nation is made up of Turks, Kurds, Alevis, Armenians, Greeks, Ezidis, Suryanis, Keldanis, Arabs, Circassians, Laz, Pomaks, and Romanies.  We will move away from every form of imposed uniformity to a pluralist democratic model for the nation. We will move from the era of the state constitution to the era of the peoples’ constitution.

The call for a new life is justice!

The architects of our existing constitution were recently given life prison sentences. We have been under the oppression of the junta’s illegitimate constitution for 35 years now. To defend the provisions of this constitution is to defend the military coup.

We can no longer postpone the need to completely replace this constitution that sanctifies the state and tramples underfoot peoples, languages, beliefs and cultures. This has become an urgent need.

We need a non-sexist, ecological, democratic constitution that reflects Turkey’s multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, religiously diverse and multi-identity reality. The new constitution must be the foundation document of a democratic Turkey and should be written by the people.

The call for a new life is freedom for all faiths!

Life together can only be based on equality and freedom. The pressure on all the oppressed and excluded faiths—Alevis, Christians, Jews, Ezidis—must be lifted. The way must be opened for all faiths and worldviews to coexist freely in a pluralist democracy.

The right to worship in one's mother tongue must be ensured. The Department of Religious Affairs, which exists to make religion serve the official ideology of the state, must be abolished. The state must abandon any attempt to influence or control religion through any institution. All hateful and discriminatory words directed at different beliefs must be removed from school textbooks and all incitement must be punished.

Legal status must be granted to the Alevi djemevis and the places of worship of all faiths and religions.

We must develop a libertarian secularism that frees all from the state monopoly over religion and enables those of any faith or of none to live freely as they chose.

The call for a new life is Green!

From the resistance of the villagers of Bergama to cyanide gold mining in the 1990s to today, attacks on nature are never out of the news.

In every corner of our country we see similar stories with different actors: women of the Black Sea coast beaten by the gendarmerie for resisting the construction of a hydro-electric scheme on their local river, farmers in Thrace protesting the pollution of their waters with industrial waste, and villagers threatened by the construction of nuclear or fossil fuel power stations where they live.

The earth which feeds us, the air that cleans our blood, water which is the source of life, and the other species with which we share the earth: those not prepared to defend this shared inheritance cannot possibly talk about democracy, justice and humanity.

The right to life is not just a right for people; defending the right to life of all animals is one of our basic principles.

The call for a new life is young!

Our youth are in revolt against the attempt to force them into a predetermined mould by those who imagine themselves the owners of this country. Our young people are besieged by systemic problems such as unemployment and the failures in education. The new way of life we are proposing will give voice to our youth.

The “peoples’ assemblies” we will set up will include youth assemblies which will ensure the active participation of young men and women in every arena and remove every legal obstacle to youth self-organisation. Ensuring the effective exercise of the political economic social and cultural rights of young people will be a responsibility of the state.

In place of the mentality that understands youth only as a problem of “maintaining order” without any attempt to deal with the problems facing young people, the new life will give our youth a voice.

Our youth will not be led, but will be leaders.

The call for a new life is the right to education!

Education is a public right afforded to every citizen free of charge. Access to education should be opened up to all equally, regardless of language, religion, faith, ethnicity, sex, sexual identity or race. Public expenditure on education must be increased and the education budget should be utilised in a just and equal way.

The educational curriculum should be freed from nationalism and sexism. We should offer a scientific, democratic, high-quality, secular education, without rote learning, that develops the creativity of individuals and that orients students in accordance with their abilities. Compulsory religious education lessons should be abolished and, instead, elective lessons in individuals’ own religions should be offered in accord with their own wishes.

Education in one’s mother tongue should be recognised as a right. At all levels of education, alongside the teaching of the official language, Turkish, there should be an opportunity to receive education in the student’s mother tongue. Education must be become multilingual on the basis of mother tongue education. It should be made possible, even if only one person requests it, for this right to be exercised without obstruction.

Education should no longer be exam-centric. The Higher Education Council should be abolished and the academic and administrative autonomy of the universities should be strengthened.

The call for a new life is for women!

Every day at least five women are murdered [in Turkey]. In this patriarchal society that allows women neither a voice nor a share in power, the oppression and slaughter continue unabated. We have taken a principled stand against all forms of discrimination against and violence to women. In this, we will continue.

Only if women take a leading role can we achieve our new way of life. Every society is only as free as the women in that society.

The call for a new life means a sexually free society. The system ignores the fate of those LGBTI individuals who face oppression and murder because of their sexual orientation or sexual identity. The very existence of LGBTI individuals is seen as a crime. Homophobia and transphobia are encouraged. In the way of new life, every citizen, whatever their sexual identity, will have equal rights and be able to live freely life without facing discrimination.

The call for a new life is for world peace!

Turkey is obliged to make a structural change in its foreign policy. Before, we had a foreign policy that ignored the problems resulting from the period of military domination of Turkish politics. Now we are face to face with the grave consequences of a foreign policy, with Ottoman references, that has the ambition to become a regional power.

Turkish foreign policy perpetuates itself by fanning the flames of sectarian hatred and opening the way for organisations like ISIS [Islamic State]. In the West, the EU membership process has virtually come to a halt, as have the related plans for reform in Turkey.

Our radical democratic belief in the possibility that people with different beliefs and identities can live together freely and equally, without assimilation, must also be the basis of our foreign policy.

The call for a new life is to get organised!

The neoliberal period has brought fundamental changes in property relations, production and employment. The production process has been atomised, split into small units and reorganised.

Under the heading of “flexible working”, workers face insecure, subcontracted, uninsured employment conditions that not only divest workers of their basic employment rights, but also rights in all aspects of their lives.  

We aim for a presidency that will make direct interventions for the investigation of industrial murders, the prevention of the use of child labour, and the reorganisation of the conditions of seasonal agricultural workers.

The new life must guarantee the social rights of all workers, especially those in precarious employment.

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“HDP is now truly a party of the whole of Turkey”

HDP Co-Chairpersons Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ held a press-conference following the HDP’s election victory. The leaders thanked those who supported the collective effort, and declared, “no coalition with the AKP”.

June 7, 2015 -- Agos 

The press conference held at the Cezayir Conference Hall in Istanbul attracted intense interest from both the press and the public. The statements of the chairpersons were frequently interrupted by slogans.

Selahattin Demirbaş said the following:

“Those who support freedom, democracy and peace won this election. Those who consider themselves the sole owners of Turkey lost. This victory is the collective victory of Armenians, Bosnians, Ezidis, Circassians, of all ethnic identities, of workers, of the unemployed, of villagers, shop owners, of all those whose labour is being exploited. This victory is the collective victory of those who want a democratic civilian constitution in this country, of those who stand against the September 12 military coup constitution and the election threshold it imposed. This victory is the victory of those who want peace in the Kurdish Question. And more than all, this victory is the collective victory of women. We stand for everything we said in squares and rallies. The HDP is now truly a party of the whole of Turkey.”

“We won’t disappoint those who trusted us with their votes”

“We won’t disappoint those who trusted us with their votes so that the path of democratic politics in Turkey is cleared. We will work harder to convince those who trusted us with their votes in this election.

The debate in Turkey over a presidential system, a dictatorship, has ended as of this moment.

It wasn’t a top-down mentality, a mentality of conspiracy that made this magnificent victory possible; it was collective intelligence. I extend my thanks to all the components that make up the HDP.

We once again say ‘God rest their souls’ to our friends who lost their lives during our election campaign.”

“We will not form a coalition with the AKP”

“Esteemed Mr. Öcalan has always been supportive of us in our policy of collective life, a civilian solution and a peaceful solution. His role in the solution process is of great significance in this success.

Our campaign was funded not by the state budget, but by voluntary sacrifices. We thank everyone who gave us their financial support.

The HDP’s new goal is coming to power. From now on, the HDP’s sun will prove enough for all 81 provinces, the AKP’s light bulb is no longer necessary.

We will not form a coalition with the AKP. We will keep our promise.”

Figen Yüksekdağ, in her speech, emphasized the increase in the number of women in parliament, and thanked the young people, volunteers and workers who supported their election campaign.

Figen Yüksekdağ said the following:

“This is a very joyful embrace. The peoples of Turkey, torn apart from each other, are now experiencing the joy of embracing each other.

Our greatest gain is the manifestation of the power of good in place of this form of politics that has passed its sell-by-date.

The 10% election threshold was an embarrassment. Those who are today buried now under the antidemocratic debris are those who imposed this threshold, and those who have since defended it. Together, we will clear the wreckage of the current political mentality. We will create Turkey anew, so that a new life can flourish.

Turkey does not want to be forced to the rule of a single man, the junta of a single party. Turkey wants to work together and produce together. The result our party has achieved is a reflection of this awareness.”

40% of our MPs are women

“I respectfully salute all our friends who accompanied us in this success.

The June 7 victory is also a victory for women. I say this with great joy, 40% of our members of parliament are women. We aimed for 50%, nevertheless, this is a great leap for the history of politics in Turkey.

We will continue to stand together, as we have done to this day.”

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