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Sunday, June 24, 2018

Erdogan, rivals woo crucial Kurdish vote

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Turkey's Kurds are set to play a critical role in determining the outcome of elections this month, with their votes coveted not just by the main pro-Kurdish party but also President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his chief rival.

Diyarbakir, the largest Kurdish-majority city in Turkey, has turned into an electoral battleground, even though the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) and its jailed presidential candidate Selahattin Demirtas are sure to leave rivals trailing.

Over the last week both Erdogan and his main challenger, Muharrem Ince of the Republican People's Party (CHP), have made trips to Diyarbakir to sway the votes of a potentially sceptical electorate. Kurds make up at least one fifth of Turkey's 80 million populations, by far its largest ethnic minority.

The Diyarbakir region is a stronghold of the HDP, which in November 2015 parliamentary elections won over 71 percent of the vote there and Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) just 22 percent. Every Kurdish vote will count in the June 24 snap parliamentary and presidential polls. But not all Kurds vote automatically for the HDP.

For the AKP to win an absolute majority in the next parliament will depend largely on whether the HDP breaks through the 10 percent overall threshold needed for seats. Although in the presidential race Demirtas will be the favored candidate of most Kurds, their votes will be crucial in helping Ince if he succeeds in forcing Erdogan into a run-off.

The election is taking place against the background of ongoing troubles in the Kurdish-dominated southeast, where the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) has waged an insurgency since 1984 that has claimed tens of thousands of lives.

And Demirtas, by far the HDP's most charismatic figure, is having to run his campaign from behind bars after being jailed in November 2016 on charges of links to the PKK.

-AFP, Diyarbakir

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