More than half of voters in Turkey have said jailed Kurdish leader Selahattin Demirtaş has more influence on supporters of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) than Abdullah Öcalan, the jailed leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), local media reported on Monday, citing the results of an opinion survey.
The results of the survey, titled “Turkey’s Pulse – October 2022” and conducted Oct. 15-18 on 2,145 people in 28 provinces, were shared Monday by Özer Sencar, the owner of MetroPoll, on social media.
Is Ocalan or Demirtaş more influential on HDP voters? pic.twitter.com/Jc6Dz5vPjY
— Ozer Sencar (@ozersencar1) November 14, 2022
MetroPoll determined the percentages of the perceived influence of former HDP co-chair Demirtaş and PKK leader Öcalan on Turkey’s pro-Kurdish electorate based on the question, “Which of the following do you think has more influence over HDP voters?”
According to the survey results, 75.2 percent of HDP voters said Demirtaş had more influence than Öcalan, followed by supporters of the nationalist İYİ (Good) Party (58.4 percent), the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) (58.1 percent), the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) (51.9 percent) and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) (40.9 percent).
The rates of the same parties’ supporters who said they thought Öcalan had more of an effect than Demirtaş on HDP voters varied between 13.2 and 25.2 percent, while those who had “no idea” or “no response” were 27.7 percent in total, the poll further showed.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan surprised many when he said at a party meeting in January that Demirtaş will have to “give an accounting” to Öcalan, using the names of the prisons where they’re incarcerated, Edirne and İmralı, respectively, and hinting at a rift between the two.
Demirtaş responded to Erdoğan from prison through his lawyers and said he would only give an accounting to an independent judiciary.
Speaking to the Yeni Yaşam daily about Erdoğan’s remarks, again through his lawyers, the former HDP leader also said Erdoğan’s claims were aimed at creating confusion among the country’s Kurdish population before the June 2023 general election and that nobody should believe or take seriously such “nonsense rhetoric.”
The president also claimed two days before the İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality elections, which were repeated on June 23, 2019, that there was a leadership struggle between Öcalan and Demirtaş. However, Erdoğan’s remarks weren’t enough to change the minds of Kurdish voters, who cast strategic votes at the urging of the HDP, for the candidate of the main opposition CHP, Ekrem İmamoğlu, contributing to his victory against the ruling AKP candidate.
Arrested on Nov. 4, 2016 on terrorism-related charges, Demirtaş has since then remained in prison despite two European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) rulings in 2018 and 2020 that said Demirtaş was imprisoned for “political” reasons and not for “legal” reasons, ordering his “immediate release.”
Listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the international community, the PKK has been leading a violent insurgency in the country’s predominantly Kurdish Southeast for nearly four decades. Its leader Öcalan was captured by Turkish security forces in Nairobi in 1999.
He was subsequently sentenced to death; however, the sentence was commuted to aggravated life as Turkey abolished the death penalty as part of its bid to become a member of the European Union.
Öcalan has been jailed on İmralı Island in the Sea of Marmara since 1999.