ANKARA, Turkey – Turkey’s pro-Kurdish HDP has chosen Serpil Kemalbay as the party's new co-leader in place of the former co-leader Figen Yuksekdag whose party membership was revoked by the country's Supreme Court earlier in the year.
The HDP reelected Selahattin Demirtas, who is in prison, as the co-chair.
According to the rules of the party, one of the co-leaders has to be male and/or Kurdish and the other to be female and/or Turkish.
Serpil Kemalbay is of Turkish origin. She had assumed the role of acting co-chair since March 12.
She told Rudaw that the party has to review and draw conclusions from studying the events that have changed Turkey in the last few years, including the Turkish referendum on the constitution held in April in order "to come out stronger" and be responsive to ever increasing demands by the people in Turkey for democracy and reconciliation.
The party has vowed to continue in their struggle for democracy, freedom, and justice despite the jailing of many of their members and attempted “liquidation” of the party, HDP announced in a published declaration on Saturday during its 3rd Extraordinary Congress.
The Turkish Supreme Court revoked parliamentary and party membership of Yuksekdag in February and March respectively after being sentenced to 10 months in prison earlier on alledged terrorism-related charges
Describing the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) as a “women’s party,” the declaration paid tribute to jailed Yuksekdag, “an important symbol of our struggle.”
In a message to the party, written from Kandira Prison where she is being held, Yuksekdag gave up her position of co-chair but vowed to continue her work, without interruption.
The congress was held one month after constitutional reforms introducing a presidential system of governance were approved in a referendum, placing increased power into the hands of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
HDP had opposed the constitutional amendments and, in their declaration on Saturday, said there is a “severe crisis and lack of democracy in Turkey.” The party stated that all decisions are now being made by one person, and decried the lack of universal human rights and judicial independence.
The main task facing the party moving forward, the party’s declaration stated, is to prepare a new social contract, a democratic constitution. HDP vowed to work together on this with other political parties, civil society and labour organizations.
The other co-chair, Selahattin Demirtas, who is also imprisoned following a conviction on terrorism charges, said the party must answer the questions of how it will protect the people in the face of threats and aggression and how they will ensure democracy and peace.
HDP has a “moral responsibility” to the people of Turkey, he wrote in a message from Edirne Prison, and must produce “concrete answers” to these questions while “stubbornly” insisting on democratic, non-violent methods to resolve these problems.
“Politics cannot be done with hatred, anger, and revenge,” he said, stressing that the party must normalize politics and strengthen democracy in the nation.
Demirtas called for a revived peace effort to end the country’s internal conflict between the PKK and Turkish security forces.
About 300 delegates and MPs participated in the congress under intense security measures.
The ruling AKP will hold an extraordinary congress on Sunday where it is expected that Erdogan will regain his position as party leader now that the president is permitted to align with a political party under the newly amended constitution.
HDP’s co-leader Demirtas along with other party officials, many of them members of parliament, remains in custody pending trial.
Former co-leader Figen Yuksekdag, her male counterpart Selahettin Demirtas and other party lawmakers were arrested in November 2016 on charges of supporting terrorism and Abdullah Ocalan, imprisoned leader of the banned PKK, after she participated in a rally in February 2015 protesting Ocalan’s imprisonment.
Several thousands of people have been arrested since the failed July coup last year, many of them for allegedly supporting the PKK, or the Islamist Gulen Movement which Ankara has been accused of masterminding the attempted coup.
According to HDP Spokesperson Osman Baydemir, around 10,000 HDP supporters including mayors and city officials associated with the HDP have been arrested, although some of the detainees have been released with or without bails.