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In the run-up to Turkey's key parliamentary and presidential elections, the Kurdish vote is seen by many as one of the major factors that could determine the outcome.

For the first time, voters in Turkey will cast ballots on Sunday in simultaneous presidential and parliamentary polls. The process is in line with last year's constitutional changes that will transform the country's parliamentary system to an executive presidential one by granting the top office increased powers.

In the past, Kurdish votes were distributed between the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and Turkey's left-wing pro-Kurdish movement - which was represented by the People's Democratic Party (HDP) in the two most recent polls.

The HDP's presidential candidate is its imprisoned former leader Selahattin Demirtas, who successfully brought his party into mainstream politics in the mid-2010s by attracting young, liberal voters.

Demirtas, along with several other former HDP members of parliament, has been in jail since November 2016, accused of having links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). His trial began in December last year and, if convicted, he faces up to 142 years in prison. Demirtas denies the charges.

With the HDP's campaign virtually absent in mainstream media's election coverage, Demirtas relies on social media and his lawyers, who regularly visit him in prison in the northwestern province of Edirne, to get his message out.

On June 17, he appeared on television for the first time since his arrest.

"The only reason I am here is because the AK Party is scared of me," Demirtas said in a pre-recorded speech broadcast by state TV from his prison cell, legally granted to all presidential candidates.

 

HDP vs election threshold

Opinion polls have suggested that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's AK Party might not achieve a parliamentary majority if the HDP manages to gain more than 10 percent of votes on Sunday, which is the unusually high threshold required for a party to enter the 600-seat assembly.

Two alliances, the People's Alliance - Erdogan's AK Party and the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) - and the Nation Alliance - led by centre-left main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) and right-wing IYI Party - are expected to enter parliament.

That leaves the HDP in a position to tip the balance of power.

Demirtas has also said that if the presidential race goes to a second round, he would back any candidate running against Erdogan.

The HDP presents itself as a party that advocates democratic rule, human rights and wider political freedoms.

However, Turkey's conservatives and many seculars living in the west of the country remain sceptical of such claims, and of the party's denial of links to the PKK, which has waged a decades-long armed fight against the Turkish state that killed tens of thousands of people.

The HDP's pro-Kurdish predecessors, which were shut down one after the other by the Turkish judiciary in the 1990s and 2000s, had resorted to entering the polls with independent candidates in a bid to get around the high election threshold.

But in polls in June and November 2015, the HDP entered the race as a political party and its appeal to non-Kurdish voters was wide enough to enable them to exceed the 10 percent mark - an unprecedented result. 

The June 2015 vote failed to provide a government after the AK Party lost its majority in parliament for the first time since it was founded in 2001 - an outcome largely attributed to the HDP's strong performance. Nonetheless, five months later, the AK Party regained the majority to rule again on its own.

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Kurdish vote Turkey's election
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