Selahattin Demirtaş: The people’s candidate

The HDP confirmed that jailed former co-chair will run for President on 24 June

On Friday the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) confirmed that Selahattin Demirtaş will be running as candidate in the Presidential elections scheduled on 24 June. 

Former HDP co-chair Demirtaş has been in prison since 4 November 2016, accused of spreading propaganda for the PKK. He was detained together with his homologue, Figen Yüksekdağ and several other HDP MPs who had been stripped of their immunity. 

This is not the first time Demirtaş run for president. Indeed, he got 9.77% of the votes in the Presidential elections of 2014, ending up in the third place and showing that, despite all obstacles, an alternative in Turkey was possible.  

A life for Kurdish people

Demirtaş was born in Elazığ in 1973. He studied law at Ankara university and after graduation he worked as a lawyer, before becoming a member of the executive committee of the Amed (Diyarbakır) branch of the Human Rights Association (IHD). 

When the then IHD Chair, Osman Baydemir, was elected mayor of Amed, Demirtaş went on to replace him. 

Demirtaş had been a member of the Democratic Society Party (DTP) in 2007 and was one of the so called “Thousand Hope Candidates” running for the DTP and other democratic organisations. He was elected MP for Amed and soon nominated the Party’s Parliamentary Chief Officer.

Terms in Parliament

The DTP was closed down by order of the Supreme Court in 2009 and scores of its members and executives were detained it what became known as the “KCK trial” (Kurdish Communities Union). 

The DTP MPs moved to the BDP (Peace and Democracy Party) and when the party held its first congress, in 2010, Selahattin Demirtaş was elected co-chair together with Gültan Kışanak.
In 2011 Demirtaş contested the parliamentary elections in the list named ‘Labor, Democracy and Freedom’, supported by the BDP and several other political organisations. He was elected MP for Hakkari. 

Running for President

In 2014, following the creation of a new initiative, the HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party) aimed at consolidating the three year old coalition of the BDP and the other left wing political parties and organisations, Demirtaş run as a candidate for the Presidential elections. 

Elected HDP co-chair together with Figen Yüksekdağ, Selahattin Demirtaş contested the first general elections as a candidate for the party. The HDP won 13.12% of the votes and ended up fourth granting the party 80 of the 550 seats in Parliament. 
It was a huge success for the HDP. And indeed a satisfied Demirtaş could not but state: “From now on, the HDP is Turkey’s party. HDP is Turkey, Turkey is HDP”.

Detention and trial

After the 15 July 2016 military coup, President Erdoğan, closed even more the circle around the HDP: thousands of party members, democratically elected mayors and councillors, executives, were detained. 

The same HDP co-chairs were detained on 4 November 2016. 
On 18 January 2017 the Turkish prosecutor announced he was seeking a 142-year prison sentence for the HDP co-chair, accused of “making propaganda for an illegal organisation”. 

Demirtaş, who had since resigned from his position as co-chair of the HDP has stated recently during one of his hearing that the trial against him is clearly a political trial. 
While he was in prison, a book of his short stories has been published and translated in different languages. 

In articles he has been publishing in the past few days, the Presidential candidate wrote that the “24 June elections could actually be a landmark and affect politics in Turkey for the next ten years. Either the one-man authoritarian regime embodied by the AKP mentality will declare the final victory and doubled the atrocities made so far to turn into a full dictatorship, or we will continue to go down the path leading to the strengthening of the quest for democracy as we have done throughout the history of the Republic”.

Demirtaş also underlined that “the HDP is the only viable and credible alternative to the AKP-MHP fascist alliance” and the only “real leftwing proposal”.