The Kurdswho have felt for decades that they are in margin her Turkish politicsmay play a key role in inconclusive elections her May 14thelections that will determine whether o President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will extend his rule after more than two decades in power.

With polls pointing to a lopsided contest, the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) could play a buffer, although a court case to outlaw the party could mean it would need to reform under a new party umbrella .

Among Kurds who gathered today to celebrate Nowruz – the spring equinox – in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir, those opposed to Erdogan appeared optimistic about his defeat in May’s presidential and parliamentary elections.

“We expect the regime to leave and we will fight for it. We have high hopes for the elections,” said 36-year-old activist Zeynep Diyar, to the sounds of Kurdish music.

Rising inflation and public criticism of the government’s handling of the devastating February 6 earthquake that killed at least 48,000 people in Turkey have left Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) facing their toughest electoral challenge since when the 69-year-old leader came to power.

For many years, Erdogan courted the Kurds, who make up about 20% of Turkey’s population, winning support in the country’s Kurdish-majority southeast with moves to strengthen their rights, economic progress and attempt to end the conflict with the Kurdish fighters.

However, Kurdish support has steadily declined as the Erdogan government has taken a more nationalist line, while its opponents have approached the HDP to secure its support for Kemal Kilinçaroglu (CHP), who opposition parties are backing against an Erdogan candidacy. .

“Freedom and Equality”

“Our demand is freedom and equality,” Diyar said at the Nowruz celebrations, adding that she would vote for Kilicdaroglu if the HDP chose to support him.

With opinion polls showing support for the HDP at more than 10%, this could play a decisive role in the election.

The HDP, the third-largest party in parliament, wants the opposition to back demands for Kurdish rights on other issues as well. The Kurdish party held talks with Kilicdaroglu yesterday and is expected to announce this week whether it will support him.

HDP lawmaker Imam Tassier stressed that Kilicdaroglu acknowledged the “Kurdish problem,” terms reminiscent of rhetoric used by Erdogan in previous years when seeking Kurdish support. He added that he was reprimanded by the Speaker of the House three months ago because he made a speech in Kurdish and not in Turkish.

Thousands of HDP members, MPs and mayors have been jailed or removed from their posts in recent years.

In 2019, the HDP partnered with the opposition to defeat the ruling AKP party’s mayoral candidates in major cities.

“I don’t think HDP voters will have a hard time voting for Kilicdaroglu, given his recent efforts to build bridges with both Kurdish and conservative voters,” said Vahap Koskun, a law professor at Diyarbakir’s Dije University.

While the opposition is building bridges, Erdogan’s AKP has been allied with the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) since 2015, when a peace process aimed at ending the insurgency in southeastern Turkey collapsed. The MHP is a staunch opponent of the Kurdish movement and its demands for cultural rights.

“Heal the Wounds”

A survey by polling firm SAMER in late 2022 showed that support for the AKP in southeastern Turkey has declined since 2018, while support for the pro-Kurdish HDP remains stable.

Sherif Aydin, the head of the AKP’s Diyarbakir branch, told Reuters the polls were misleading and rejected criticism of the government’s response to the crisis. “We did our best and our people only trust Recep Tayyip Erdogan among the politicians of this country to heal these wounds,” he said.

But some residents in Diyarbakır, one of the quake-hit areas, say the government has proven inadequate. “If he had taken action, so many people wouldn’t have died,” said 55-year-old Mehmet Bektash.

However, legal proceedings could derail the role of the HDP, which also won nearly 12 percent of the national vote in 2018. The party could be barred from May’s election on charges of having links to Kurdish militants. The HDP, which denies any such links, has asked for the April 11 court hearing to be postponed on the grounds that it would interrupt its election preparations.

HDP officials declined to say what the party would do if the hearing was not delayed, but reports said it would then direct its supporters to vote for the small Green Left party, which has adopted a banner similar to his own. HDP.