Turkish presidential candidate calls on Erdoğan to release Demirtaş from jail

Muharrem İnce, the presidential candidate for Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), called for the release of Selahattin Demirtaş, the jailed former co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), who is challenging Turkey’s Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, saying. “Let us race like men in next month’s snap elections.”

Selahattin Demirtaş

The CHP nominated İnce to challenge Erdoğan in the June 24 presidential election. Demirtaş, who in the 2015 election led the pro-Kurdish HDP as the second-largest opposition party in parliament, announced his presidential candidacy on Friday.

“The HDP are also children of this nation, the AKP are also children of this country. … Don’t keep Demirtaş in jail. Come, let’s race like men,” the CHP’s presidential candidate İnce told crowds of flag-waving supporters in his hometown of Yalova, where he held his first election rally.

CHP deputies Barış Yarkadaş, Eren Erdem and Sezgin Tanrıkulu have also issued calls through their social media accounts for the release of  Demirtaş.

“Presidential candidates were announced. They will hold rallies and ask for votes. HDP’s candidate Selahattin Demirtaş on the other hand is unjustly imprisoned, so he doesn’t have the chance to campaign. This shameful and unjust situation must end, Demirtaş must be released immediately,” said Yarkadaş.

Erdem stated that “the HDP’s presidential candidate Selahattin Demirtaş doesn’t have a conviction or sentence given by the courts. And he is still under arrest. The remand of a candidate, and a candidate who is running to lead the nation after having fulfilled all requirements at that, will cast a shadow on the just nature of the election. He must be released.”

“Selahattin Demirtaş, officially nominated for the presidency by the HDP, is still a member of parliament and has no conviction. His arrest is unjust and goes against the law and the principle of elecitons under equal circumstances. Demirtaş must be released immediately,” said the CHP’s Tanrıkulu.

In his first interview with international media after being nominated, Demirtaş, who has been in jail on alleged terror charges for a year and a half, told Reuters a fair election was impossible under the state of emergency imposed after the July 2016 coup attempt.

The former HDP co-chair, who has been in prison for 18 months and faces up to 142 years in prison if convicted of a string of terror-related charges, on Friday told Reuters that Turkey’s opposition parties will face ‘huge obstacles campaigning for votes.’

“Demonstrations are banned, talking is banned, criticizing the government is banned, even defending peace is considered terror propaganda,” Reuters quoted Demirtaş as saying, as the 44-year old recalled that hundreds of opposition journalists are under arrest and dozens of TV and radio channels have been closed following the coup bid on July 15, 2016.

Demirtaş, in his hand-written response to questions submitted by Reuters to his lawyers, stressed “It is impossible for there to be fair elections in such an environment.” “There is no legal obstacle to my candidacy because I am not convicted,” he said, as Demirtaş has yet to be sentenced during his one a half years in prison.

Meanwhile, Demirtaş has advised his supporters to overcome social polarisation during the election campaign, Cumhuriyet reported. “Please do everything you can to end the polarisation that is turning the life of our society to hell. This is more important for us than winning in elections. Never forget that. Never allow provocations,” Demirtaş said.

Demirtaş also repeated that the election campaign would be difficult and take place under unfair circumstances, calling on his supporters to actively participate in the election campaign. “Tell this to those who ask you who you will vote for in the second round: ‘We will support Demirtaş again in the second round. Who will you support? Believe this and we can make it come true’,” Demirtaş wrote.

On Saturday, the HDP’s co-chair Sezai Temelli posted on his personal Twitter account that his passport had been seized by the state, leaving him unable to campaign outside the country. “Notes from the HDP election campaign 2: HDP’s co-chair Sezai Temelli’s passport has been seized and he cannot go overseas…” he wrote, referring to himself in the third person.

The majority-Kurdish political party presently has nine of its parliamentarians in jail including former co-chairs Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ.

Demirtaş, who is in solitary confinement, has nonetheless apparently kept his sense of humour. “To those asking what I trusted to become a candidate from prison, in a poll I carried out in my prison cell I always got 100 percent of the vote. Just kidding 🙂 Once I got angry with myself and didn’t vote, and I got 50 percent,” a message on his official account said.

Also on Saturday, a new wave of repression was initiated against members of the HDP ahead of the presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for June 24. İstanbul police conducted raids on several houses Saturday morning and targeted executives and members of the HDP. At least seven people were taken into custody in the operation, including former HDP deputy and Party Assembly member Asiye Kolçak.

The latest polls show the HDP receiving 10 to 12 percent support in the upcoming elections as the party continues to be targeted by the government. Erdoğan last month called snap parliamentary and presidential elections for June 24, more than a year early, in order to switch to the powerful executive presidency narrowly approved in a referendum last April.

Ahead of the elections, Islamist Erdoğan’s AKP formed an election alliance with the ultra-nationalist Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which also supported Erdoğan in the April 2017 referendum.

On Saturday, the CHP, İYİ Party, Saadet Party and Democrat Party signed a declaration marking a four-way election alliance called the “Nation Alliance,” pledging to remove polarisation, instill independence for the judiciary and ensure basic rights and freedoms can be exercised.

The CHP’s presidential candidate İnce also vowed on Saturday to steer clear of the luxurious presidential palace in Ankara if elected president on June 24, saying that he will instead transform the decadent building into a university for the nation’s brightest students, independent news site T24 reported.

İnce said he was overwhelmed by the attention he’s receiving as presidential candidate, following weeks of speculation surrounding the CHP’s nominee, promising that he will be president of all 80 million citizens of Turkey. “I will never live in that palace,’’ İnce said, referring to the 1,150-room complex built amid a great deal of controversy.

“I was looking for a good real-estate agent; I was thinking of selling the place, but friends objected to the idea. I am going to transform that building into a university for Turkey’s top students. And, as president, I am going to live in the Çankaya Palace, where Atatürk lived,’’ İnce said.

Fifty-three-year-old İnce, who is a former deputy leader of the party’s parliamentary group from the northerwestern region of Yalova, has been a long-time vocal critic of Erdoğan.

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