Illegitimate actors no more
For long decades, both parties had been delegitimized and viewed as threats to the constitutional order in the two countries. The violence, which was both a cause and a result of state policies on the minority populations they represented, outlawed these parties as illegitimate actors in the eyes of the electorate. Later, however, three things in sequence transformed these parties into charmed contestants in the electoral struggle.
First, the governments changed their policies to find a solution to the violent conflict and approached the respective minorities represented by these parties more positively. They initiated negotiations with the armed wing of these parties. The negotiations succeeded in Northern Ireland and ended with the lasting IRA ceasefire in 1994 and the Belfast Agreement in 1998. The negotiations between the PKK and Turkish government failed twice, once after the Oslo talks (2006-2011) and second after the peace process (2012-2015). In the Irish case, the British government made it clear that it would not oppose Irish reunification if it were peacefully expressed by the will of majority. The reformist nationalists in Ireland also agreed on a potential future coalition with Sinn Fein if it abided by peaceful means of participation. These helped the establishment of peace.
In the case of Turkey, several factors obstructed the establishment of credibility between the Kurdish and the Turkish side: the leaked Oslo records in the media, the elite-driven nature of the talks and the outbreak of the war in Syria. Despite the difference in the way the conflicts took shape, both the HDP in Turkey and Sinn Fein in Ireland nevertheless attained a certain degree of public visibility and legitimacy, following the change in government policy.
Second, both parties developed a claim to be viewed as more legitimate actors over time. Their organizations expanded and the nationalist discourse shifted toward democratic socialist concerns. For instance, in the Republic of Ireland, Sinn Fein managed to merge its “all-for-unified-Ireland” emphasis with a position that endorses basic needs of the society such as housing, healthcare and the environment. In Turkey, the HDP’s predecessors – the BDP and the DTP – also started campaigning on a wider spectrum of issues than Kurdish rights, such as social and environmental justice, gender equality and labour rights. In fact, democratic socialist values were foundational to the ideology of both parties and their armed wings. Therefore, a discursive shift in this direction was not a surprise.
Third, the political establishment in both Ireland and Turkey suffered from major economic and political crises, which helped these parties to turn their long-term ‘outsider outlook’ to political advantage. Sinn Fein built upon the social frustration triggered by the austerity measures in 2014 and increased its popularity emphasizing social justice and equality. During the February elections, it campaigned on the taxation of global corporations; a boost in public spending and residential rent freezes. These promises spoke mainly to those affected by the housing and health-care crises. The pro-Kurdish party’s popularity increased following the Gezi protests, which started as a local environmental protest and then turned into a nationwide anti-government movement. Even though the party did not take an official position at that time, its campaign in the June 2015 elections embraced the concerns of this movement: It targeted the growing authoritarian policies of the government, addressed human and environmental rights protection and gender equality.
As a result of these developments, the two parties made major strides forward in these respective elections. The effort of the political establishment to remind the voters of their violent background proved futile.Print