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After big win in June, why did HDP lose this time?

Voters held the pro-Kurdish party HDP responsible for the violence that affected thousands before the election, turning to the Justice and Development Party to restore order.

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey — A shopkeeper showed me an Instagram photo of his Nov. 1 ballot stamped "yes" for the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). “This time I voted for the HDP, but this is the last time,” he said.

“If it goes on like this nobody else will vote for them, either,” said the shopkeeper, who spoke to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity.

Election day was calm in Sur. When the votes were tallied, most people were disappointed. They were expecting many to vote for the HDP because of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government’s harsh crackdown on the youth wing of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the Patriotic Revolutionary Youth Movement (YDG-H). But the opposite might have happened.

Back in August, the Kurdistan Communities Union, an umbrella organization that includes the PKK, declared it would no longer recognize the authority of any state agency. Self-government was declared in towns in many provinces. The PKK’s youth wing dug ditches and erected barricades to prevent security forces from entering their neighborhoods. But the state’s response was quick and harsh. Curfews were declared in many locations and massive security operations were launched.

The HDP is thought to have ties with the PKK. 

“At least half of the vote loss in Diyarbakir was because of those ditches. People suffered, lost much financially because of them. They blamed the HDP for their losses and penalized it by not voting for it,” said the shopkeeper, who lives in the Sur district of Diyarbakir. Sur has made the headlines frequently because of the clashes between the PKK and the government over the curfew.

Fesih Kanan was among those who voted for the HDP. “They lost 62,000 votes compared with the [June 7] election. People were scared" so they voted for the AKP, seeking to prevent more violence. "They were hoping that if the AKP won as a single ruling party, peace would be restored," Kanan told Al-Monitor. "People voted for calm and peace."

Bilal Ozkahraman was also unhappy with the election results. He said the HDP did not work hard enough, but he also blamed the atmosphere of fear for the HDP's loss.

“This time, unlike in June, nobody was enthusiastic to vote. I think most of those who didn’t show up to vote were simply scared. The ditches in the streets and demands for self-government played roles. I think they were mistakes. Some people even moved out of their houses. Families that suffered casualties turned their backs on the party. We can interpret this outcome as a reaction to the ditches,” Ozkahraman told Al-Monitor.

Nobody, other than the PKK, seems to deny that the developments before the Nov. 1 election affected its outcome. People who had not experienced curfews since the military coup of Sept. 12, 1980, were confined to their houses for days. Thousands of people abandoned towns that had become veritable battle zones.

The results speak for themselves. The consensus is that the HDP was made to pay for the violence instigated by the YDG-H in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish cities of Sirnak, Silopi, Silvan and Cizre.

When critics slammed the PKK over the group’s decision to declare autonomous regions, the PKK leadership responded. Duran Kalkan, a member of the PKK Executive Committee, rejected the allegations that the organization had impeded the HDP’s political activities after the June 7 elections.

“How did the PKK assess the June 7 election results? Did it encourage or discourage the HDP? Accusations of discouragement are baseless. Was it the PKK that set fire to 200 HDP offices and arrested thousands of PKK people? Be honest. Let them prove it,” Kalkan said.

What does the HDP say to these accusations? Meral Danis Bestas, the HDP’s deputy co-chair, said the vote loss cannot be attributed to a single cause.

“This was not a normal election. In an atmosphere of oppression and killing, we were facing an all-out assault with detentions and illegal measures. We entered the elections in that atmosphere. We couldn’t run a proper election campaign. We couldn’t hold rallies and reach out to the people. We were practically made invisible. Ninety-five percent of national television channels were off-limits to us. When all other political parties were always on screen, our news, activities and the statements of our leaders were not reported. This severely affected the outcome," Bestas told Al-Monitor.

"We were not facing only the government. The Turkish armed forces, security services, bureaucracy and judiciary were all arrayed against us as one. We didn’t run for elections in a just, free and equal democratic atmosphere. Election fraud always remained on the agenda."

Bestas noted that the HDP will also address the role that the ditches and self-declared autonomous regions played in the election results.

“We will discuss what happened. We haven’t held our in-house meetings yet. We have to analyze where the incidents and ditches were, what their effects on voting were," Bestas said. "We are not avoiding responsibility. Of course we will review our performance. People will decide then. We don’t think we were vetoed by the people. We will talk to them, listen to their views. In short, we will go to our people,” Bestas added.

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