Turkey: PKK leader calls for neutrality in Istanbul mayoral vote

Imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan urges pro-Kurdish HDP party to remain neutral in Sunday's mayoral election.

    Former coleader of pro-Kurdish HDP, Selahattin Demirtas, expressed his support for opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoglu on Monday [File: Vincent Kessler/Reuters]
    Former coleader of pro-Kurdish HDP, Selahattin Demirtas, expressed his support for opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoglu on Monday [File: Vincent Kessler/Reuters]

    Imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), Abdullah Ocalan, has called on pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP) to "remain neutral" in Istanbul's mayoral elections, defying Kurdish support for the opposition candidate.

    "Abdullah Ocalan, in a statement from Imrali Prison, called on the Peoples' Democratic Party to remain unbiased in the Istanbul election," Turkish state-run Anadolu news agency tweeted on Thursday evening, referring to a June 18 letter written by Ocalan.

    "The understanding of a democracy embodied in the HDP means it should not take sides or be party to the current electoral debates," Anadolu quoted Ocalan as saying in another tweet.

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    Responding to the news, the HDP said Ocalan's last-minute call would not change the party's strategy of supporting the opposition in the mayoral election of Turkey's cultural capital city.

    The HDP coleaders said in a written statement on Friday that Ocalan's statement was in line with the HDP's strategy until now, and that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was seeking to pit the HDP and Ocalan against each other in a "desperate" move.

    The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) candidate, Binali Yildirim, and the main opposition Republican People's Party's (CHP) candidate, Ekrem Imamoglu, will be competing for the second time in Istanbul's mayoral vote on Sunday.

    After it had been announced on April 17 that Imamoglu had won by a small margin, the AK Party lodged an "extraordinary objection" leading to the Supreme Election Council (YSK) ordering a rerun of the March 31 vote based on alleged voting irregularities.

    Ocalan's letter was shared with members of the press on Thursday by Turkish academic Ali Kemal Ozcan. According to Ozcan, the imprisoned leader gave it to his lawyers on Tuesday, but they "hid" it from the public.

    Controversy

    The reports come after former HDP coleader Selahattin Demirtas expressed his support for opposition candidate Imamoglu on Monday.

    "We believe that Imamoglu's appeal should be supported," the jailed politician said in a tweet from his prison cell before quoting Imamoglu's election slogan: "Everything will be beautiful."

    Thursday's reports about the letter sparked controversy among HDP supporters, with some claiming it had been fabricated.

    Former HDP parliamentarian Ziya Pir said on Twitter: "What kind of a brazenness that is... Because they [AK Party] believe they will lose the elections, they are reporting fabricated news. No one should take these fabricated reports into account. HDP votes are for Imamoglu."

    Voters prepare

    While the AK Party has tried to reach out to Kurdish voters - who number millions in the capital and could prove to be the kingmakers - it has focused its efforts on its supporters who did not come to the polls in March.

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    Turkish columnist Abdulkadir Selvi told AFP news agency that the ruling party is not taking any chances on more than 400,000 AK Party supporters who did not vote in the March polls.  

    "The upset voters are being phoned one by one for individual discussions," Selvi wrote, explaining that the AK Party has been trying to mobilise its supporters for the second attempt.

    Vegetable merchant Inal Kaya, who did not vote during the local elections in March and later regretted it when the ruling party lost in a shock upset, said he would vote this time. 

    "I was a bit fed up with all these elections," said Inal, peeling leeks at his stall in the district of Fatih, a conservative stronghold. It was the eighth election in just five years.

    But on Sunday, he will have a second chance. "And I will certainly be there," he said.

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies