Turkey announces Kurdish candidate for presidential election
ANKARA - Turkey's main pro-Kurdish party on Monday announced it was fielding Selahattin Demirtas, the party's co-chair, as its candidate for the presidential election in August to challenge Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The August 10 vote is shaping up as a two-horse race between Erdogan and opposition candidate Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu.
But the performance of Demirtas could be important in determining if the ballot goes to a second round two weeks later.
"It is time to begin our campaign my friends. Let us pave the way to the presidency," the 41-year-old Kurd told supporters after he was nominated by his People's Democratic Party (HDP).
"We will carry the torch of the struggle for peace," he added.
Demirtas, a lawyer, was this month elected co-chair of the HDP, which enjoys strong popularity in Turkey's predominantly Kurdish southeast.
The Kurds, a distinct Sunni Muslim people, make up an estimated 20 percent of Turkey's 76 million strong population, or around 15 million people.
Erdogan is widely expected to be unveiled Tuesday as the candidate for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), and support from the Kurdish minority could carry him towards a near certain victory.
Demirtas is expected to struggle to break into double figures on polling day with many Kurds still expected to vote for Erdogan, who has been prime minister since 2003.
The HDP candidate -- a relatively youthful and dynamic figure -- may also win a limited amount of support from non-Kurdish voters but not enough to seriously challenge the two main candidates.
Last week the AKP presented a set of reforms to parliament aimed at giving a major boost to the stalled peace process between the state and Kurdish rebels.
The reforms -- granting legal protection to key players involved in peace negotiations -- were seen as a government gambit to guarantee Erdogan's presidency.
But analysts believe the HDP could back Erdogan in any second round run-off scheduled for August 24 against Ihsanoglu, who has been put forward as a joint candidate by the two main opposition parties.
Erdogan is Turkey's first leader to engage in talks with Kurdish rebels and give the Kurds limited extra rights including allowing Kurdish-language education in private schools. But these reforms have failed to grant Kurds any constitutional recognition.