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Will Turkey’s top court disband pro-Kurdish party ahead of May elections?

The HDP, which might be one step closer to closure with this move, is competing in the crucial polls next month under the list of the Green Left Party. 
Co-leader of the People's Democratic Party (HDP) Mithat Sancar.

Turkey’s highest court referred Tuesday the closure case of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) to its rapporteur, taking a further step toward the process of a potential disbandment of Turkey’s second-largest opposition party ahead of crucial elections in May. 

The move comes after the HDP announced last week that it will not make a verbal defense before the Constitutional Court (AYM), which has rejected the party’s request to delay the proceedings until after the presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for May 14. The Grand Chamber of the Constitutional Court, which reviewed the party’s petition Tuesday, inscrolled that the party had waived its right to oral defense and handed over the file to the court’s rapporteur to prepare the report. Once the report is ready, Constitutional Court president Zuhtu Arslan will set a date for the series of meetings to reach a verdict. 

Though it is not clear whether the court will make a ruling on the ban before the elections, the HDP has already taken its guard by competing in the polls under the Green Left (Yesil Sol) Party, its sister party that has a similar flag and an almost identical logo, instead of its own name and logo. 

"We will not enter an electoral process while risking closure, even if there is a one in a thousand chance," said HDP co-chair Mithat Sancar, as he announced the decision last week.  

The HDP garnered 11.7% (approximately 6 million) votes in the 2018 elections and has 56 seats in the 600-strong parliament. In the southeast, which is the party’s stronghold, it carried half of the electorate, topping 65% in Diyarbakir, the largest city in the region.  

Pervin Buldan, the party’s other co-chair, told the party’s parliamentary group that she hoped to double the number of their seats in parliament to more than 100. “We will continue to be there. We have resisted, and we will continue to resist without fear," she said. 

The list of Green Left candidates includes Sancar and Buldan. However, some of the visible names in the party, such as its co-spokesperson of foreign affairs Hisyar Ozsoy, were presented due to the party’s internal rule of not nominating the same candidates for a third term. Neither was Garo Paylan, the only ethnic Armenian deputy in the party, due to the same reason. The current list contains no one from the Armenian community, which caused dismay among the non-Muslim minorities. The new list — which has a high percentage of women — includes high-profile names such as journalist and author Hasan Cemal, and Cengiz Candar, an internationally renowned Middle East expert who has frequently contributed to Al-Monitor. Sirri Sureyya Onder, a former HDP deputy and the party’s candidate for Istanbul mayor in 2014 local polls, is also on the list. 

The party announced that it will not field a presidential candidate, in tacit support for the leader of the main opposition Republican People's Party, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, by declaring its “historical responsibility against [Erdogan’s] one-man rule.” The announcement came in the wake of a visit by Kilicdaroglu to HDP leaders.  Selahattin Demirtas, the imprisoned former co-chair of HDP who still wields influence on Kurdish voters, said that Kilicdaroglu "showed sincere effort for change and democracy." Demirtas told Financial Times that Kurds “value a common presidential candidate” and were “hopeful” about Kilicdaroglu’s campaign, but they would wait to see how it unfolded before making a choice.

The party, which has a pivotal role in the dual polls and post-election parliamentary balances, has been battling for its political existence ever since 2021. In an 843-page indictment, Public Prosecutor of the Court of Cassation Bekir Sahin accused the party and many of its members of engaging in activities contrary to the “indivisible integrity of the state with its territory and nation” and fostering ties with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which Turkey, the United States and the European Union consider a terrorist group. He demands the closure of the HDP and a five-year political ban on 451 party members. The HDP denies any link with the PKK. 

While the broader case went on, the Constitutional Court narrowly voted in January for the freeze on the party’s bank accounts where they receive Treasury funds like all parties that surpass an electoral threshold. But it unfroze them two months later following the party’s appeal. 

To close down the party, 10 out of the 15 judges of the panel would need to vote in favor of the ban. If closed, the HDP will join the list of seven pro-Kurdish parties banned or self-dissolved before suspension since 1990. 

"The closure case against our party started with political motives and proceeded with political interventions. All our applications for the plea date to be postponed to a date after the elections were rejected by AYM without justification,” the HDP petition said, explaining that it will not present its verbal defense on April 11 as requested. The party has accused the AYM of intervening in “free and fair elections” in Turkey. 

“The closure of the HDP would be a violation of the rights to freedom of expression and association and would seriously undermine the ability of people in Turkey to take part in the conduct of public affairs,” Amnesty International said Tuesday. “The chief public prosecutor of the Court of Cassation should withdraw the lawsuit against the HDP, particularly in light of the European Court of Human Rights rulings in previous cases where the court found violations of the right to association in recent years due to similar circumstances in which the Turkish authorities have closed political parties.” 

The Green Left Party has faced several cases of vandalism since joining forces with the HDP. Unidentified persons vandalized the party offices in the capital, Ankara, and in the Aegean port city of Izmir.  In Ankara, the attackers removed the party's flags in an office in the Mamak district and replaced them with Turkish flags. In Izmir, two people — reportedly minors — vandalized an office in the Menemen district and shared the attack on social media. 

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