Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Courting the Conservative Kurdish Vote

Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has, for the last few years, been making serious inroads among voters in the predominantly-Kurdish southeast region. With its strong Islamic credentials and a more progressive approach to the Kurdish issue than previous governments (at least until recent months), the AKP presents a very appealing package for Kurdish voters, a large segment of whom tend to be socially and religiously conservative.

This has spelled trouble for the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP), which used to be the undisputed political power in the southeast. The party now realizes that talking tough on the Kurdish issue might alone no longer be enough to woo voters, and that it also has to pay attention to their religious sensitivities. This is quite a change for a party whose roots are Marxist and deeply secular.

Local elections will be held throughout Turkey in March and the DTP and AKP are already engaged in a bitter fight for the hearts and votes of the southeast's Kurds. The name of the game this time around, it appears, is crafting a message that successfully mixes the Kurdish issue with religion.

I recently went down to Diyarbakir, in southeast Turkey, and filed this report on the subject for the Christian Science Monitor.

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